Humaima Malik: Will a Pakistani-Indian kiss be censored?

By Fifi Haroon
BBC World Service

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image captionYouTube screen grab from Kabhi Ruhani Kabhi Rumani, a song that features in new film Raja Natwarlal

She may be Pakistan's sweetheart, but the country's most highly paid actress, Humaima Malik, says she worries about how home audiences will respond to her latest on-screen romance - soon she'll be seen locking lips with Indian co-star Emraan Hashmi in her first Bollywood starring role.

With this kiss, Malik joins the line-up of Pakistani female actors who have crossed the border to India, and - in the eyes of some - to infamy.

Another Pakistani star, Veena Malik, caused quite an uproar by posing daringly on the cover of an Indian men's magazine cover wearing nothing but the initials ISI - an acronym for Pakistan's notorious spy agency, the Inter-intelligences service - tattooed prominently across her arm.

Malik has since been seen in London, on the way to an interview with the BBC Urdu service, rather more modestly attired in a voluminous burka.

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But the backlash against "our girls" going across the border to seek fame and fortune has always been extreme in conservative Pakistan. People feel that kissing the enemy and colluding with Indian men's magazines is simply not on - not halal. In fact, until recently, kisses were invariably censored in all films shown in Pakistani cinemas.

Students at the British-style public school I attended in Karachi didn't watch Pakistani movies.

We fancied ourselves as somewhat Westernised, and Pakistani cinema seemed far too downmarket and rough in comparison to Hollywood's glossiness. This opinion was clearly not shared by cinema audiences across the country, who devoured the sappy love stories and social dramas popular at the time with hearty appetite.

But whereas my friends' fathers woke up every morning to pack their briefcases to work in banks, my father went to work to make movies. This is why I, as a child, was thrown headlong into the infinite twists and turns of high romance in Pakistani cinema, where heart-throb Waheed Murad serenaded comely ingenues in the tranquil climes of hill stations like Murree, the invariable pastoral setting for the hit musicals of the era.

By the 1980s the sudden rise and easy availability of VHS tapes brought Indian cinema home to the Pakistani audience. Waheed Murad was all but forgotten and families eagerly congregated in large drawing rooms and gardens around their TV sets to watch Amitabh Bachchan, the then reigning superstar in Mumbai, fight off a dozen men with open-shirted, hairy-chested vigour.

By the 1990s the steady slump in cinema-going was complete. The only films on release were either haphazardly censored and dated Hollywood blockbusters, or gory C-grade Punjabi thrillers with buxom heroines dancing around the Rambo-like hero of the time, Sultan Rahi, who played the lead in more than 700 films. These films were watched by the male working class in decrepit cinemas with rickety seats.

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But the rise of Western-style multi-screen cinemas has changed all that. With the screening of the latest Bollywood and Western films on the same day they are released in the rest of the world, Pakistanis have now returned to watching films with enthusiasm

And not just foreign films. Alongside the large Bollywood blockbusters are small independent Pakistani films like Zinda Bhaag (Run for your Life) and moneyspinners like Waar (Strike) or Main Houn Shahid Afridi (I am Shahid Afride). Last year was the biggest for Pakistani cinema in a long while.

The largest money spinner of the year, Waar - a slick propagandist tale of a covert Indian war in Pakistan - was reportedly financed almost entirely by the ISPR, the press office of the Pakistan Army, and the ISI.

Humaima Malik's kiss is unlikely to pass the Pakistan censors, who always seem to take patriotic umbrage at such close fraternising with the Indians. Bollywood may be bigger and brighter, but Lollywood (based in Lahore) and the Pakistani army are determined to bring our girls back to Pakistani cinema.

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