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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 16 December 2018

Tracing back the Pakistani presence in Bollywood

Inspite of decades of political conflict between India and Pakistan, Pakistani actors are making it big in Bollywood.
Salma Agha, left, with her daughter, Sasha Agha. AFP
Salma Agha, left, with her daughter, Sasha Agha. AFP

The past few weeks have been a great time for Pakistani debuts in Bollywood, with Fawad Khan’s Khoobsurat and Humaima Malick’s Raja Natwarlal doing really well at the box office. And while the Hindi film industry is brimming with Pakistani talent these days, the trend can be traced back decades.

Blast from the past

In 1982, the light-eyed Salma Agha bagged a Filmfare Award for Best Female Playback for the ghazal Dil Ke Armaan Aansuon Mein Beh Gaye in her debut Bollywood blockbuster Nikaah. A singer as well as an actress, Agha, who was born in Karachi and spent time in London before making her Bollywood debut, acted in and sang for Indian films throughout the 1980s and 1990s and can be considered the original Pakistani import to Bollywood.

Another actress to make some waves was Zeba Bakhtiar, who debuted in Randhir Kapoor’s Henna in 1991 opposite the Bollywood superstar of that time, Rishi Kapoor. But Bakhtiar turned out to be a one-hit wonder.

Agha’s phenomenal success has not been replicated – not even by her daughter, Sasha Agha, who debuted last year with the commercially unsuccessful Aurangzeb (starring the Indian actors Prithviraj Sukumaran and Arjun Kapoor), and gave it another go with Desi Kattey, which was released this month. The action-drama, featuring Suniel Shetty, also received a lukewarm reception.

Anita Ayoob, another light-eyed beauty, desperately tried to make her mark, but was swiftly written off without much ado. With barely a memorable role in 1993’s Pyar Ka Tarana, Ayoob resorted to controversial photo shoots and interviews to keep her name in the news. Somy Ali, who debuted the same year with Anth, met with the same lack of success.

Surprisingly, it was not a doe-eyed beauty who ushered back into Bollywood the demand for Pakistani talent, but a young man with amazing comedic timing.

The new generation

Ali Zafar, who has a legion of Indian fans thanks to his boyish good looks and talent, bagged a Filmfare nomination for Best Male Debut in 2010 with Tere Bin Laden and went on to work on a number of successful Bollywood films including Mere Brother Ki Dulhan (2011), Chashme Baddoor (2013) and Total Siyapaa (2014).

But Zafar was soon upstaged by a fellow Pakistani – and the current Bollywood heart-throb – Fawad Khan, an actor and singer who debuted alongside Sonam Kapoor in the recently released Khoobsurat.

“This is certainly not the first Bollywood project that was offered to me,” says the suave, bearded Khan. “Way back in 2008, I was supposed to fly down to Mumbai to meet several producers and directors, but I wasn’t able to make it. When Khoobsurat came along, there was no way I could say no. It has been an absolutely amazing experience.”

The end of August saw the release of Raja Natwarlal, which was the Pakistani actress Malick’s Bollywood debut.

“Bollywood pretty much forms the identity of cinema in our part of the world,” says Malick. “It is a natural progression for actors to take this step. After Bol [a 2011 Pakistani film], I got many offers and this is the one that worked out”

The most recent Pakistani import is Naqvi who starred in Vikram Bhatt’s Creature (released on September 11) alongside Bipasha Basu. The film may have not made much of a mark on the box office, but the actor is settling in well, with more projects in production and in the pipeline.

Pakistan’s talent

Fahad Hussain, the chief executive and owner of Citrus Talent, Pakistan’s leading model and actor management agency, believes this “talent exchange between Pakistan and India” is a brilliant idea.

“Earlier we only used to see Indian models and actors endorsing our brands and Indian movies being played in our cinemas,” says Hussain. “But the shift in trend with Bol, a Pakistani movie that was released in Indian cinemas in 2011, made the Indians aware of the fact that we have brilliant actors in our country, too. That is how Humaima Malick was approached to do Bollywood movies. Thanks to the Indian channel Zee Zindagi that is now airing our hit soap operas such as Humsafar, Aunn Zara, etc, our agency is being approached by Bollywood to cast Pakistani actors in their films.”

So far, Citrus Talent has been approached by casting directors in India to look into the possibility of casting well-known Pakistani actors such as Maya Ali, Sheheryar Munawwar, Mehwish Hayat and Azfar Rehman in their forthcoming movies.

Hayat, a popular actress, model and singer, has repeatedly been approached to star in Hindi films. The sultry beauty – listed by Britain’s Eastern Eye magazine as the eighth-sexiest woman in Asia in 2010 – has been inundated with offers since her cameo in the newly released Pakistani film Na Maloom Afrad. She appeared in an “item” number, a raunchy dance sequence inserted into the storyline of most Bollywood masala films to help ensure success at the box office.

A shared love of Bollywood

“With our Pakistani dramas airing across the border, Pakistani faces are becoming more and more popular in India. It’s so overwhelming to see their response, how they’ve accepted us with so much love and warmth,” says Hayat. “Bollywood is a huge industry and having the talent from Pakistan being recognised, picked and appreciated, there is definitely a great achievement. Pakistan is filled with immensely talented people. We have the potential and with the right choices we can really do wonders. I believe this exchange of talent will be beneficial for both the industries. Art knows no border and for the sake of art I am willing go to the ends of the world … and that includes Bollywood.”

Hussain says: “We have been sent scripts for some upcoming Bollywood films to do storyboard castings. This seems really promising and in the coming times we will, Inshallah, get to see more of our actors being cast in Bollywood movies. The trend has already taken off with Ali Zafar, Fawad Khan, Imran Abbas, Mikaal Zulfiqar, Humaima Malick, Sara Loren doing movies in Bollywood now.

“Because Bollywood is a huge industry, it gives our artists a chance to show their true potential to a bigger audience and it’s a stepping stone towards the growth of our industry. Gladly, the revival of cinema has also happened in Pakistan, where talented filmmakers are venturing into movies now. If Bollywood is looking into taking our actors in their movie, then I am always more than glad to facilitate them.”

artslife@thenational.ae