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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 16 December 2018

Pakistani filmmaker to reboot Bollywood classic romance Arth 2

The film, to be made in Urdu and set in Lahore, will have a cast from the two countries – but so far only the names of Pakistani actors have been announced

Indian film posters on display in Pakistan. EPA
Indian film posters on display in Pakistan. EPA

Politically, India and Pakistan may be barely on talking terms but that has not diminished the soft power of Bollywood, with Indian films and film stars continuing to be hugely popular across the border.

For the first time a Pakistani filmmaker, Shaan Shahid, is remaking a Bollywood classic – Mahesh Bhatt’s semi-autobiographical Arth (Meaning).

Arth 2, to be made in Urdu and set in Lahore, will have a cast from the two countries – but so far only the names of Pakistani actors have been announced.

Made in 1982 and inspired by Bhatt’s extra-marital affair with Praveen Babi, one of the most glamorous Bollywood actresses of the time, Arth is ranked by the Film and Television Institute of India as one of Bollywood’s 25 greatest films of all time.

When Shahid approached Bhatt for the rights to the film’s story and screenplay he promptly agreed – and declined to accept any fee. He was delighted, he said, that his work was being used to promote friendship between two estranged neighbours.

“I had no objection. The story has endured the passage of time and is available in public domain. Shaan wanted to use my story and present it as a local, indigenous narrative that suited his country’s palate. I’m not aware of what he has done. Every filmmaker has his own worldview and the freedom to reinterpret a story the way he wishes,” he said.

Shahid, who grew up watching Indian films on bootleg videos (Indian films were banned in Pakistan for a long time), said this was his way of acknowledging Bollywood’s influence on him. He was paying tribute to one of India’s most critically acclaimed filmmakers, he said. “Arth is the first film with the DNA of an Indian story to be set in Pakistan. If we want to strengthen film trade between our countries, Arth’s model is a great way of collaborating,” he said.

The choice of such a bold film, however, has caused some surprise considering the conservative social attitudes in Pakistan, and questions are being asked as to how much of the “essence” of the original would be retained.

Even in India, Arth was regarded as rather controversial for its time. It was the first film to explore a man-woman relationship in a way that had not been done in Indian cinema before, and it created quite a stir.

Featuring two of that era’s most famous feminist artistes – Shabana Azmi and the late Smita Patil – it is about a film-director (a thinly veiled Bhatt played by Kulbhushan Kharbanda) who leaves his wife (Azmi) to live with an actress (Patil).

When their relationship breaks down, he wants to return to his wife expecting that, like a good Indian housewife, she will welcome him back with open arms.

But she refuses to take him back, telling him that she has moved on. She also says no to an old college friend (played by the late Raj Karan) who tries to sneak back into her life after her husband leaves her.

The film’s message was that the modern woman can lead a meaningful life independently without needing a man as a crutch. It will be interesting to see how Pakistani audiences respond to it.

Shahid has described the remake as “a contemporary retelling of the original story” looking at it from the point of view of the abandoned wife’s college friend. He is also a well-known actor and will play this role himself.

One Pakistani critic familiar with the making of Arth 2 described it as “a huge departure from the original Arth”. The cast includes Mohib Mirza as the philandering husband; Uzma Hassan in the role of the wife; and Humaima Malik as the actress.

Notwithstanding how it pans out, Shahid’s venture is seen as a significant effort in raising the level of the Pakistani film industry’s engagement with Bollywood.

It is mostly restricted to Pakistani actors making guest appearances in Bollywood films. If Arth 2 proves commercially successful, it could open a new chapter in Bollywood-Lollywood (Pakistan’s nomenclature for its film industry) cooperation, in the form of co-productions and “cross-overs”.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Arth 2 has already run into difficulty – no, not with Pakistani authorities but with a Bollywood director, Sharat Chandra, who claims that he alone holds “exclusive rights” to Arth, having bought it from its producer, Kuljit Pal. He has threatened legal action if anyone else uses it.

But it has now emerged that Bhatt has rights only to the story, not the title.

He has urged the two sides to sort out the dispute “in the spirit of Indo-Pakistan friendship”. So, fingers crossed until it is resolved.

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