THERE was a chill in the air when I arrived in Delhi, I pulled my jacket closer around myself and hurried to the car with the Pakistani actress Meera right behind me. We had just arrived here to take part in a panel discussion organised by the Federation of the Indian Chamber of Commerce & Industry (FICCI) for a delegation from the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) countries. Even though the industry here and abroad snigger behind and in front of her back, the point is that the organising community of the FICCI was desperate to have Meera attend and address the delegation and were over the moon when I confirmed her attendance at the event.
As we speed towards our hotel in the early hours of the day, I glance at Meera and can't help but notice how fresh she looks at this hour, without a trace of make-up on her face, dressed in an elegant business suit, Gucci glasses perched firmly on her head... what a far cry from the Meera who hid behind layers of unnecessary war-paint in Nazar, ensuing that she looked hard and older than her years. When I tell her that, she looks at me like a schoolgirl getting an important lesson ..... earnest, soaking every world in ... 'Ji Pooja ji, aaj ke baad mein heavy make-up bilkul nahin use karoongi'... I can't help but feel a burst of warmth for her ... Most people write her off as insane, mad ... simply because she has the guts to unflinchingly ask for what she truly desires.... she does not hesitate to do absurd thing like walk up to you at a party and ask you to pose with her for a photo, that too shaking her hand because she wants to flaunt that image back home in Pakistan... and she is one of the few people I know who acknowledge their failure and tell you quite candidly 'I am a flop, a failure... Me and my film Nazar have been rejected!! REJECTED! I can't go back to Pakistan beefier I succeed' That's a refreshing change from actors back home in Bollywood who pass on every flop as 'not their film' and claim every hit even if all they've one in that film is two scenes and half a song.
Later when we are led into the banquet hall where the convention is about to commence she whispers to me urgently, 'Poojaji, kya bolna hair?' I tell her to speak from her heart, that's all ... words spoken from the heart, reaches the heart' ... She nods and proceeds to go up on stage. But she need not worry, just her presence is enough to dazzle the audience.... Soon we are introduced to Runa Laila, a lady I have tremendous regard for. The three of us get on like a house on fire and promise to be unofficial ambassadors to the SAARC nations and pledge that by the time the next convention happens in 2006, we will achieve something together to show for it -- something that will benefit all seven countries equally.
I do believe that artistes can achieve more than politicians... that's why we should never permit politics to colour our art.... these boundaries between our nations have to be erased... this baggage of hate HAS to be discarded... We can't complain about the darkness and not attempt to light a candle ourselves.. my decision to take my film 'PAAP' to Pakistan and premier it there in 2003 was one such attempt at erasing this darkness. My colleagues back home thought I've gone mad since Pakistan was considered a hot bed of piracy and no one had actually done that before. Why would they? They would sit here in the safety of their boardrooms and say things like 'Pakistan and India are one' but in reality refuse to stick their necks out to actually walk that talk. Even a film like Veer-Zaara, which was loved by people on both sides of the border, has been shot right here in the 'safety' -- our backyard, it's a film that should have been premiered there too... But then I guess it takes women like Vinta Nanda and myself to do gruesome things like putting our money where our mouth is and walking our talk. Today when I look at my entry in the Limca book of records for PAAP being the first film in the history of Indian cinema to be premiered in Pakistan, my heart swells with pride. It means far more to me than that strange little golden guy called 'Oscar' eve could.
But what's important to remember is that the audio-visual medium is not only our birthright. It's important that we use our technical expertised to empower the minorities and those who are marginalised in all of these SAARC nations. I propose a film that will have seven individual stories from each of these nations.... each one will celebrate the uniqueness of it's country, each one will entertain, educate and empower.... they will involve writers, directors, actors, musicians from within their own regions... And will all come together like the wonderful mosaic that the SAARC nations are.
I know what you're probably thinking. That it sounds like an impossibility on paper, but then that's what the strength of vision is... to make the impossible, possible. My father once told me 'If you can dream it... you can do it...'Just dare to dream, that's all'.
Those words resonate in my heart today and I promise myself that I will not rest until I realise the dream I dared to dream that afternoon at the SAARC convention... a dream that I want to be not only mine, but everyone's dream!