x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Pakistanis want Bollywood-style weddings

At a time when diplomatic relations between India and Pakistan have hit a sour note, citizens of both countries are soaking up each other's culture.

Aspects of Indian culture are peacefully assimilating into everyday life in Pakistan.
Aspects of Indian culture are peacefully assimilating into everyday life in Pakistan.

LAHORE // In the countdown to her wedding, Sana Khan, 26, made the usual rounds of designer shops, jewellers and beauty salons in her native city of Lahore. But for her most important bridal purchases, she went abroad - to India. "I bought at least 50 per cent of my dowry from Delhi and Jaipur," she said. "I even wanted to order my dress there but decided against it because it was too much hassle to go there for fittings."

At a time when diplomatic relations between India and Pakistan have hit a sour note, citizens of both countries are soaking up each other's culture. Humaira Khawaja, 27, whose brother recently got married in Lahore, said she made three trips to India for the wedding. The first was to choose clothes and jewellery for the engagement, the second was to place orders for the wedding and the third was to pick up the items.

"All our clothes came from India," said Ms Khawaja, who works with her father at his carpet factory. "All the clothes we gave the bride were Indian; her jewellery came from India and all of our clothes - meaning my sister, nieces, mother - also came from India." Ms Khawaja says the reasons were practical rather than political. "Their workmanship and design elements are so much better than ours. We are nowhere close to them." Amjad Islam Amjad, a cultural commentator based in Lahore, said the influence of Indian culture was growing.

"We're so much in awe of them that in every aspect of our culture we bow down to them, whether it's imitating their clothes or dances." While aspects of Indian culture appear to be peacefully assimilating into everyday life in Pakistan, diplomacy between the two nuclear armed rivals remains strained. Since the split of the subcontinent in 1947, the two countries have been at odds. They fought two wars, in 1961 and in 1975. In May 1999, they came close to a third when India launched airstrikes against Pakistan-supported troops in the Indian-controlled part of Kashmir, north of Kargil. During the stand-off, thousands of shells were fired every day and about 50,000 people were made homeless on both sides of the border.

"The Kargil offensive completely ruptured relationships between Pakistan and India," said Rasool Baksh Raees, a political analyst and professor at Lahore University of Management Sciences. "It has taken us years to mend the situation and the wounds are still fresh." Since 1999, the two sides have implemented a number of measures meant to improve relations between their people, including bus journeys over the border, cricket matches, film productions and fashion shows. All have led to what observers are calling the "Bollywoodisation" of Pakistan.

"Their culture is more developed, stronger and more powerful than ours," said Mr Amjad. "Also, they've marketed themselves so well that it's easy for us to believe they are better." In Pakistani cinemas, Indian films draw huge audiences while the majority of local productions play to empty or half-filled houses. Because of the popularity of Bollywood celebrities in Pakistan, event managers prefer booking Indian actresses and models to Pakistani celebrities - even if the cost is 10 times the price of a local entertainer. At street stalls, vendors market glass bangles by naming them after popular Indian television shows.

Hajra Hayat, a fashion designer who is renowned for her heavily embellished bridal outfits, said she recently attended a friend's wedding where guests threw coloured powder and water at each other, in a replication of the Indian Hindi festival of Holi. "To some extent, we're awestruck by the Indians, more so now than before, which is a testament to the great job their media is doing in marketing their culture," said Ms Hayat. "I sometimes get brides asking for an outfit to be made in the same colours as ones that Ashwariya Rai or Kareena Kapoor wore in a certain Indian film. I never get requests from a bride inspired by a Pakistani actress."

Afra Bukhari, a cultural consultant and short story writer, said Pakistanis were eager to imitate Indians because they have progressed at a faster pace. "Their economy is doing better than ours, their political situation is more stable than ours and they are held in greater esteem by the rest of the world," said Mr Bukhari. "We believe imitating them would help us do better too." However, Ayesha Meezan, an event manager, said sometimes the urge to imitate went too far.

"We often get couples eager to get the Devdas look for their weddings," she said, alluding to a popular Indian film based on an epic tale of love. "They're not even willing to consider a theme more indigenous to Pakistan." * The National