Shaan, Ali Zafar and MFN to India


Chennai Express and Dhoom 3 can help improve Pakistan’s economy



It was extremely heartwarming to see Pakistan’s best actor by a country mile – and then some – Shaan Shahid at his xenophobic best at a film awards show recently. Some people were left wondering if the star actor had forgotten to switch off from his role in Waar. But then everyone realised that he is normally pretty patriotic – read jingoistic – regardless of the presence of a camera, so it made sense that he would call everyone working in Bollywood a “cheap sellout” during the ceremony. Shaan’s verbal blitz can incidentally also be used to make a case against granting India the Most Favoured Nation (MFN) status. Coincidence? We believe not.

Ali Zafar seems to be a staunch believer in economic laissez-faire or cinematic laissez-faire. He managed to extract offence from Shaan’s conspicuously offensive remarks, as he presented his case in favour of Pakistani stars working in India, which in turn made a strong case in favour of granting India the MFN status. Coincidence? We believe not.

There of course was a subplot to Shaan and Ali Zafar’s debate that seemed to be surrounding trade and commerce.

Shaan believes that just like other Pakistani industries should be protected by not giving India the MFN status, in turn preventing an influx of Indian products, the Pakistani film industry should be protected by preventing an “outflux” of Pakistani talent to India. Ali Zafar believes that it is absolute nonsense – or words to that effect – and that not only would Pakistani industry improve by interactions with India, youngsters would be able to learn a lot as well.

So basically the argument against MFN status to India is similar to the argument against screening Bollywood movies in Pakistan. The condescending jibes against Pakistani actors that seek “greener pastures” in India, are but a corollary of that. And hence, both the fear of MFN and Bollywoodphobia, have the same root: fear of competition. That this competition comes from the (much stronger) “archenemy” augments the fear.

There is a case to be made in favour of Dhoom 3 and Chennai Express potentially doing more for Pakistani economy than most finance ministers in the history of the country. It is no coincidence that Pakistan has started producing films like Waar and Zinda Bhaag ever since the local cinemas started screening Bollywood movies. You see when there are better products in the market, local products won’t survive unless they are improved.

“We make excuses to hide our weaknesses, sometimes in the name of patriotism, sometimes in the name of other things”. This is what Ali Zafar said, while accepting the “International Icon of the Year” award at the said award ceremony, in response to Shaan’s speech earlier on. He followed it up by saying, “We should speak the truth and the time has come when the new generation should be told the truth.”

The “truth” is that India as a country is growing economically and direct trade between the two countries would help Pakistan more than it would help India. The “truth” is that indirect trade via Dubai is seriously hurting our fiscal numbers, while not doing much damage to India. The “truth” is that Bollywood is light years ahead of Lollywood, and it is only to Pakistan’s benefit if our actors work in Bollywood. And the “truth” is that India has progressed through seriously reducing jingoism in the country, and that is the most important lesson that we can learn from India. Let us stop making excuses and tell the next generation the truth.


The writer auditioned for the villain’s role for both Waar and Dhoom 3. All aftereffects of reading the Horizontal Column are the readers’ headache.