“Unnke ghar may ghuss ke maarenge,” is the one dialogue from Kabir Khan’s last film that left certain people in Pakistan thoroughly shaken. 26/11 Mumbai attacks mastermind Hafiz Saeed appeared on Pakistani channels and said how he was taking on Phantom for this dialogue. He said it was a blatant threat to Pakistan and him. He moved court. Phantom was banned. All the good karma that Bajrangi Bhaijaan helped director Kabir Khan earn in Pakistan, was reduced to dust.
Kabir Khan is now on the threshold of his next release. It has Salman Khan, it is called Tubelight, and it has the 1962 Indo-China war as the backdrop. And it is not being released in Pakistan. (At the time of filing, a statement from the makers of Tubelight said that the film might release in Pakistan but not on Eid, and that they would try their best to take Tubelight across the border. There is no release date yet. Tubelight is yet to be submitted to the censor board of Pakistan.)
Two big Pakistani films are scheduled for a release in the country this Eid. Yalghaar and Shor Sharaba. And a Salman Khan film is an adversary that no distributor in our neighbouring country is willing to take. Salman Khan’s popularity in the country has been touted as the reason why no one is keen on helping secure a release for Tubelight in Pakistan. How will the Pakistani films compete with a mammoth like Tubelight, is the refrain in the country.
BUT IS IT REALLY THAT SIMPLE?
Kabir Khan has directed six films till date. Kabul Express, New York, Ek Tha Tiger, Bajrangi Bhaijaan, Phantom, and now Tubelight. Out of the last five, Pakistan took offence to Kabul Express, Ek Tha Tiger was banned, as was Phantom. When Kabir Khan made Bajrangi Bhaijaan, Pakistan stood up and gave him an ovation. In a long long time, they said, a film that portrayed Pakistan in such a positive light hadn’t come out of India. Bajrangi Bhaijaan had a smooth release and set the cash registers ringing in the neighbouring country. Kabir Khan and Salman Khan began being hailed as the new messengers of peace.
Soon after Bajrangi Bhaijaan, the director decided to release his been-in-production-for-long film Phantom. It starred Saif Ali Khan and Katrina Kaif and gave nightmares to Pakistan for weeks before the country finally banned it. Phantom, based on the book Mumbai Avengers by Hussain Zaidi, told the fictional tale of how a man is entrusted with the task of eliminating all the key players of the 26/11 Mumbai terror attacks in the aftermath of the same.
The characters to be eliminated were all picked up straight from reality, with very thin veils hiding their identities. Mastermind of the attacks Hafiz Saeed became Haris Saeed, David Coleman Headley and Sajid Mir’s names were retained and Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi was changed to Sabauddin Umvi. There was no doubt in anyone’s mind as to who these people were in reality. And that left Lashkar-e-Taiba chief Hafiz Saeed in sweat.
He moved court. He argued that Phantom was a threat to him and Pakistan (“ghuss ke maarenge”). He got the film banned in Pakistan.
Following the release of Phantom in India, Kabir Khan fell out of favour with many people in Pakistan. On a visit to Pakistan in April 2016, about eight months after the India release of Phantom, Kabir Khan was heckled at the Karachi International Airport. People asked him to ‘make a film on Kulbhushan Yadav’ (whose fate now lies in the hands of the International Court of Justice), while some others waved a slipper at him.
Soon after the incident, Kabir Khan took to Twitter to clear the air. Calling these hecklers ‘lunatics’, Kabir wrote, “To media on both sides: 12 screaming lunatics with a mobile phone camera is not news. Please don’t give them the attention they want. Ignore.”
Now, a year later, Kabir Khan’s Tubelight is scheduled for a release in a few days. That the film might not see a release in Pakistan will undoubtedly leave people to wonder: Has Kabir Khan’s post-Phantom fame in Pakistan got nothing to do with it?