In ‘zeal for unity’, Indian, Pakistani filmmakers to bridge divide

New Delhi, Feb 10 (IANS) In the midst of political controversies between India and Pakistan, six Indian directors including Aparna Sen, Tanuja Chandra and Ketan Mehta and six Pakistani directors of the likes of Mehreen Jabbar, Sabiha Sumar and Meenu Farjad are coming together on a common platform for an apolitical exchange to mark the onset of the 70th year of the country’s Partition.

After the launch of Zindagi channel which brought Pakistan’s TV content closer to Indians in 2014, Zeal For Unity (ZFU) is the second initiative by Zee Entertainment Enterprises Ltd. (ZEEL) to use the strength of creative thought leadership from both the countries to bridge the divide between the two.

“This initiative is keeping in line with our proposition ‘Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam’ which means ‘The World is My Family’. It’s an initiative to bring people together, and one of the best ways to reach people is through cultural similarities,” Punit Goenka, managing director and CEO, Zee Entertainment Enterprises Ltd., told IANS.

From Pakistan, the six directors who have made the films are Mehreen Jabbar, Sabiha Sumar, Khalid Ahmed, Shahbaz Sumar, Siraj Ul Haq and Meenu Farjad. And from India, there are Aparna Sen, Tanuja Chandra, Ketan Mehta, Nikhil Advani, Tigmanshu Dhulia and Bejoy Nambiar.

The 12 films have multifarious stories of various lengths and touch upon different subjects.

While Nambiar’s movie “Dobara” is about a free-spirited girl who gets into an arranged marriage; Ketan Mehta’s “Toba Tek Singh” is a satire penned by famous Urdu writer Saadat Hasan Manto; and Tigmanshu Dhulia’s film is on a Muslim boy who hides his identity and pretends to be a Hindu to find a house in Mumbai.

Then Meenu Farjad’s “Jeevan Haathi” is a a dark comedy on media and features Indian actor Naseerudin Shah, with whom directors Meenu Gaur and Farjad Nabi have earlier worked on “Zinda Bhaag”; Shahbaz Sumar’s “Khaeme Mein Mat Jhankein” is a fantasy fiction; while Siraj Ul Haq’s “Mohabbat Ki Aakhri Kahani” is on honour killing.

“In some ways or the other, the films touch upon the Hindu-Muslim and India-Pakistan relationship, but we didn’t ask the filmmakers to specifically make films on peace. We gave them the freedom of choice to tell stories their way — no rules, no format,” Shailja Kejriwal, chief creative – Special Projects, ZEEL, a leading Indian media and entertainment conglomerate, told IANS.

The fact that “there are far more people who want peace and friendly relations between the nations than those who don’t” was a major drive for the team to initiate the project, which aimed to exploit the “brilliant talent pool that both countries have”.

“Zindagi was the first step in a direction to bridge the cultural gaps as Indians at large had not seen Pakistani ontent and the lifestyle of people in Pakistan. Now the second step is to get directors from both nations to stand together and dissolve the boundaries,” Kejriwal said, stressing on how “the common man in both the countries does not want war”.

Kejriwal said it is a “historic step” in the sense that an Indian banner had never produced a Pakistani film so far.

Now, the idea is also to take these 12 movies to the audience by giving them a digital as well as broadcast release.

Goenka said ZEEL is in active dialogue with a Pakistani company to partner with them so that the films will get a platform there. Apart from that, the plan is to take the films as part of a festival all over the world, especially to the South Asian diaspora.

Any government support for the initiative?

“Our job is to connect the people through cultural mediums, and not about engaging the government.”

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