Indian producers have been campaigning for an official release of Bollywood films in Pakistan. Years back, films with a distinct Pakistani flavour, Soni Mahiwal, Mughal-e-Azam and Taj Mahal, were cleared for release, but because of political problems, no contemporary Bollywood title has ever found a simultaneous theatrical release in Pakistan.
Mahesh Bhatt's AWARAPAN, releasing next week, will create history in Pakistan, if the Federal Film Censor Board in Lahore understands. A print of AWARAPAN is being taken to Pakistan to be shown to censor officials on Wednesday. If the film is cleared, it is likely to witness a theatrical release in Pakistan concurrently with the rest of the world, giving the cinemas there a fresh lease of life and the audience a valid reason to rejoice.
The screening of AWARAPAN before the Censors does not come as a surprise given the Bhatts' affinity for Pakistan and the talent there - be it in the form of actress Meera or music personalities like Atif Aslam, Rahat Fateh Ali Khan and Ali Azmat, to name a few. "It's payback time," says an industry insider. "Pakistan should let AWARAPAN release in its country as there are compelling reasons to justify this."
In AWARAPAN, Mahesh Bhatt has introduced the chartbusting compositions and renditions of Roxen vocalist Mustafa Zahid, Annie and Rafaqat Ali Khan, making this the first Bollywood soundtrack to feature musical talent from Pakistan in entirety. This is also the first Bollywood film in recent years to have been shot in Lahore. (The Rishi Kapoor-Zeba Bakhtiar starrer Henna had been shot in Pakistan more than a decade back). In the climax of AWARAPAN, the main protagonist, a simple Hindu boy, Shivam (Emraan Hashmi) brings his unrequited love interest, a Pakistani girl, Reema Zaidi (Mrinalini Sharma) back to Lahore to give her the freedom and respect she yearns for. The film's other heroine, the south-Indian super-star Shriya Saran, plays the role of Aliyah Hamid, Shivam's former love interest before Reema comes into his life.
A Muslim expert was hired on the sets of AWARAPAN during the shoot in Jodhpur, Bangkok and Hong Kong, as both the actresses essay Muslim characters and it was important to get their body language and mannerisms right, especially for the namaaz scenes. The film, itself, is based on the Islamic tenets of freedom pronounced by Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him).
Director Mohit Suri confirmed the story, "It's true that on Wednesday AWARAPAN will be censored in Lahore. I'm keeping my fingers crossed. Studio 18 International is giving the film an overseas release, so it would be unfortunate to have Pakistan left out of the equation. If it works out, I will get a chance to have the first simultaneous release in India and Pakistan."