Pakistan’s ban on Bollywood thriller Raees sparked a social media backlash on Wednesday, after the film featuring Indian superstar Shah Rukh Khan was denounced for portraying Muslims as “terrorists.”
The government decision to bar the 2017 action film came after Pakistani cinemas lifted their own ban on Indian films. Bollywood movies and Khan in particular are immensely popular in Pakistan and the film also stars a leading Pakistani actress, Mahira Khan.
But the industry has become a political battleground amid heightened tensions between the nuclear-armed states in the disputed Kashmir region. The film “portrays Muslims as terrorists and violent people,” said Mubahsar Hassan, chairman of the Pakistan Film Censor Board.
A second official complained about the comparison between Muslims and Hindus. “This film gave a message that all Muslims do bad things and are involved in crimes while Hindus are gentlemen and they stop them from the dirty work,” he told AFP on condition of anonymity.
But fans dismissed the concerns, with many arguing that art can be about politics but politics should have no place in art. “This ban on #Raees is an example of the kind of absurdities Pakistan’s moral crusaders and groveling bureaucrats can attain on their own,” tweeted Pakistani film maker and journalist Hasan Zaidi.
“Ban on Indian movie Raees is a ban on #Mahira for her barely acting debut. Why Pak censor boards hate Mahira so much?” said writer Haji S Pasha.
Some, however, backed the censors. Yasmeen Ali, a lawyer and university professor, wrote: “I support the ban on #Raees owing to showing Muslims of a particular sect of Islam conducting heinous crimes & being terrorists.”
Pakistani cinemas last October announced a ban on Indian films following strained relations between Islamabad and Delhi, lifting it only last month. For its part, the Indian Motion Pictures Producers Association banned Pakistani actors and technicians from working on Bollywood sets after last year’s tensions.
The Pakistani censor board officials said other Bollywood films such as Kabil and Ae Dil hai Mushkil can still be shown, as they do not contain objectionable content.