May 30, 2020
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Lyrics Of Diplomacy

Pakistan is wooing Indian stars—for peace and money

Lyrics Of Diplomacy
collage by Jayanto Maitra
Lyrics Of Diplomacy
It's a cultural glasnost which is sweeping Pakistanis off their feet. Since Partition, the establishment has shut out Indian artistes—and any other cultural import—from performing on their soil. No wonder, entertainment-starved Pakistanis, not content with the odd Daler Mehndi or Sukhbir shows, have furtively listened to and watched pirated Indian music and movies all these years.

But all this could change now. Amid fresh peace initiatives between the two neighbours, the Pakistani army is now singing a completely different tune—officially inviting top Indian singers to perform for them. And, as if taking a cue from the army, even the entrepreneurs want to cash in on this change of heart and have launched their own initiatives to stage music concerts in Pakistan with Indian celebrities.

Consider this:
  • The Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) has decided to officially invite legendary Indian singer Lata Mangeshkar for three concerts in Islamabad, Lahore and Karachi. Lata, who will be accorded a state guest's status, is expected to visit Pakistan by the year-end. Says Zahid Bashir, pcb's marketing director: "We are in constant touch with her nephew. We have already got the initial nod from her. It would greatly help break the ice between India and Pakistan." For pcb, the Lata shows are a master-stroke—they come with the twin promise of raising the much-needed moolah to develop cricket in the country and help ease tension between the two governments.
  • The army has decided to invite Asha Bhonsle, with Adnan Sami, to perform for the saf games in Pakistan in October this year. They are also hopeful that India will confirm their participation soon.
  • A leading hotelier, better known for his proximity to top army brass, is currently negotiating with A.R. Rahman for two concerts in the memory of the late sufi maestro, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan.
  • Sonu Nigam has confirmed his participation for a concert later this year organised by an event management company.
  • Lucky Ali is performing in Karachi on July 7 at the 35,000-seater hockey stadium with his Pakistani counterpart, Hadiqa Kiyani.

    The list seems unending. Singer Abhijeet and Bollywood hunk Salman Khan too have expressed their willingness to visit Pakistan if and when they are invited. At the same time, they have also expressed their fears of a Shiv Sena backlash. Says Bashir: "We have decided to meet Bal Thackeray in Mumbai and persuade him to bring Indian artistes to Pakistan." Even the otherwise-dour Pakistan Television (ptv) is part of this new wave of cultural glasnost—it has expressed its willingness to run videos of Indian music stars, of course, subject to approval by the army.

    Understandably, it has been an uphill task for the organisers—bringing Indian stars and starlets to Pakistani stages was always a contentious issue. Says Faizan Peerzada of Rafi Peer Theatre Workshop, organisers of the Lucky Ali concert in Karachi: "It took us almost two-and-a-half months to get permission."

    And then, the cash registers promise to ring on the other side too. With its lacklustre entertainment sector, Pakistan offers huge revenue potential for any Indian act—the occasional gigs in the past by the half-Indian band Stereo Nation, Lucky Ali or Daler Mehndi have always been complete sell-outs. Now the pcb is eyeing a profit of crores of rupees from just three Lata concerts. Says Bashir: "We expect to earn about Rs 40 crore from these three concerts.We have already got an offer of $4 million for exclusive television rights for them."

    Insiders also opine that these Indian gigs are a chance for Indian satellite channels to stake their claim in the hitherto-uncharted waters of the Pakistani entertainment market. "The performance by Indian artistes will also help harmonise relations between the two countries. As we expect the continuation of dialogue between India and Pakistan for the next several months, these performances will bring a good name for Pakistan in India," says Bashir.

    He insists that the music for money and peace initiatives is part of the Pakistan army thinking which is "against religious extremism". But other organisers advocate caution—they are still apprehensive of the jehadis' reaction. They cite the instance when Stereo Nation could not perform in Multan some time back following threats from local Muslim extremist groups.
    But there's a consensus on at least one issue—even if peace continues to be a victim in spite of this invasion from Indian singers, business surely will flourish.

    Ghulam Hasnain in Karachi
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