Abu Dhabi: A shared culture and matching sensibility make India a promising destination for screening films from across the border, say Meenu Gaur and Farjad Nabi, co-directors of highly acclaimed Pakistani film 'Zinda Bhaag'.
Indian actor Naseeruddin Shah-starrer 'Zinda Bhaag' is the first Pakistani movie to be sent for the Oscars in the last 50 years.
In 2008, Shoaib Mansoor's 'Khuda Kay Liye' was released commercially in India, making it the first Pakistani film to release across the border after 43 years. It was followed by Mehreen Jabbar's 'Ramchand Pakistani'. In 2011, Indian audiences were treated to Mansoor's 'Bol'.
Now, the makers of 'Zinda Bhaag' are hoping that the film, on illegal immigration, will be welcomed with open arms in India.
"I really think Pakistani films need to be (regularly) shown in India. That needs to happen," Gaur, who is here with Nabi for the Abu Dhabi Film Festival (ADFF), told IANS.
"In terms of the distance, Delhi, Amritsar and Lahore are so close and yet people don't know about the everyday lives of people across the border. So I think films like ours, which people can relate to and enjoy, need to be seen and shared," she added.
'Zinda Bhaag' was showcased at a screening here at the ADFF. It was appreciated for its local Lahori flavour, punchy dialogues and natural acting and for showcasing an issue as sensitive as the clamour of the youth to settle in a foreign land by hook or by crook, in a light-hearted but convincing manner.
Gaur believes the film, which took over two years and roughly $500,000 to make, has the ability to strike a chord with Indian audiences for more reasons than one.
"If there is any country that this film transcends seamlessly in, it is India. In India's Punjab too, illegal immigration is as prevalent as in Pakistan's Punjab. So it is a story that will easily appeal. We are very excited about a possible release in India," said the filmmaker, an Indian married to 'Zinda Bhaag' producer Imran Zaidi.
Nabi added: "We are in our fifth week in Pakistani theatres. In the US, it's in the second week. It has released in around 10 cities. It will be followed by Canada, and hopefully India soon."
He revealed that a recent limited screening of 'Zinda Bhaag' in Delhi evoked a positive sentiment.
"The people said this can be any mohalla of Delhi and a lot of people said subtitles are not needed. There is an instant connect in Delhi with the story and characters, which are based in Lahore," Nabi added.
Cultural exchange lies at the heart of their film, for which they used around five crew members from India. It has a pivotal role essayed by veteran Indian actor Naseer, who even held a week's workshop for the first-time actors who play protagonists in the film.
It worked very well for the entire team.
"When we decided to have some crew members from India for 'Zinda Bhaag', we took a very deliberate decision. The practice in Pakistan is to get crews from cities like Bangkok but we chose India and the reason was clear.
"Our cinematographer was a Punjabi from India and he blended into the milieu of the film so well. We were on the same page," Gaur added.
'Zinda Bhaag' as well as a film like 'Waar', which seems to be doing brisk business at the box office, can be considered beacons of hope for Pakistan's film industry, which collapsed around the 1990s. It is almost revival time now.
"I am hopeful that things are going to grow and change for the better. This year has been a bumper year for Pakistan's film industry. It's a big deal that people are talking about these films. It can only get better from here," Gaur added.