A Cinema Owners' body today refused to screen movies starring Pakistani artistes in the four states of Maharashtra, Gujarat, Karnataka and Goa, dealing a blow to Karan Johar's upcoming Diwali blockbuster Ae Dil Hai Mushkil that features Fawad Khan.
The decision taken by the Cinema Owners Exhibitors Association of India (COEAI) at its meeting here mainly covers single screen theatres and comes amid tension between India and Pakistan in the aftermath of Uri attack last month. Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, Ranbir Kapoor and Anushka Sharma play lead roles in the film.
Datar said the decision was not taken due to any political pressure and that the Association was keeping "patriotic feelings" of people in mind.
"The COEAI has decided that keeping in mind the patriotic feelings and the national interest of our country all our members and exhibitors will refrain from screening movies which have involvement of any Pakistani artiste, technicians, directors, music directors etc," the Association president Nitin Datar told reporters.
"Under our association we have several members including single screen theatres and few multiplexes. Our members are based in Maharashtra, Gujarat and parts of Goa and Karnataka," he said, adding, "the decision stands until things(Indo-Pak relations) get normal."
The release of Ae Dil Hai Mushkil faced trouble last month when Raj Thackeray-led Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) issued an ultimatum to Pakistani actors to leave India and also sought a ban on them.
The party had threatened to stall the releases of Ae Dil Hai Mushkil and Raees, starring another Pakistani actor Mahira in the lead role.
Subsequently, the Indian Motion Picture Producers Association (IMPPA) passed a motion to ban artistes from across the border from working in the industry till Indo-Pak relations are normalised.
The body, however, has criticised COEAI's decision, saying the films which have already completed production should not be targeted.
"We stick to our stand, We feel films that are completed shouldn't be banned," TP Aggarwal, IMPPA President, told PTI.
Datar said that while the decision not to screen certain films would cause monetary losses for the theatre owners, there might have been greater damage if their screens were vandalised.
The decision drew criticism from the film fraternity but it was welcomed by the MNS.
"I congratulate all the members of COEAI... I think multiplexes haven't taken any stand yet but we are firm on our stand that we won't allow any movie which features Pakistani artistes to release in Maharashtra," MNS leader Amay Khopkar said.
Censor Board chairman Pahlaj Nihalani said the decision is wrong as the film mostly features Indian actors.
"The film is produced by Indians. The film stars lot of Indian actors, so they should be concerned about our actors and the Indian producers. They have no right to take such decisions, which goes against the film industry," Nihalani said, adding that the film has also got the censorship certificate.
Reacting to the development, actor Om Puri said that a decision like this is justified only when the government takes it.
"If the government says not only actors but all Pakistanis, who have come here for business or to meet their relatives must go back to their country and their visas must be cancelled after three days, then I am with the government. Let the head of the country decide this and not us," Puri said.
Filmmaker Shyam Benegal said while he has no views on the matter, the decision could have been "political, commercial or social."
A lot is riding on Ae Dil Hai Mushkil, which stars heavy-weights like Aishwarya, Ranbir and Anushka, and also marks Johar's return to direction after a gap of four years.