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Scripting A Bollywood Movie: When Fantasy Meets Reality – OpEd

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Talking about Bollywood film plots, here’s one-there is a boy who is so badly smitten by his online ‘girlfriend’ that he decides to marry her, but just like all love stories, there’s a big hurdle in the way. No, not the hackneyed one in which religion plays the spoiler (as you may have expected), but that of different nationalities. He’s an Indian, she a Pakistani and since the animosity between these two countries matches that of the Capulet and Montague clans in Shakespeare’s ‘Romeo and Juliet,’ the narrative gets more interesting.

Undeterred by this more than seven-decade old irreconcilable feud that continues to bleed both sides even today, the boy decides to go and get his love residing in tribal area of Pakistan, but unlike Salman Khan in ‘Bajrangi Bhaijaan’, he doesn’t simply go across the Indo-Pak border. He makes his way to Afghanistan and from there tries to secretly enter Pakistan and the suspense starts because nothing is heard from him thereafter. With no clue of his whereabouts, it seems that he has either been swallowed by the earth or just vanished in thin air and this situation sets the stage for a sad song that if sung by Adnan Sami could be a chartbuster!

It’s also the emotionally perfect time for ‘intermission’.

The story resumes with spotlight on our hero’s distraught mother who seems to be on the verge of giving up all hopes of getting any news of her son. Just when she thinks all is lost, a young female journalist from Pakistan contacts her and promises help in tracing out her missing son, and the mother’s face lights up. Armed with a special power of attorney given by the boy’s mother, this young Pakistani reporter files a case in court and even approaches the Commission of Inquiry on Enforced Disappearances (CIED) to ascertain the missing boy’ whereabouts.

Suddenly, Pakistani security forces admit that our ‘missing’ boy is in their custody and that he has been (just like Sharukh Khan in ‘Veer-Zaara’) tried secretly by a military court and jailed on trumped-up charges of espionage.

Our, jailed hero remains unrepentant, while his mother is overjoyed by the news that her son, though imprisoned, is alive. But since this plot is too clichéd, to close it at this stage with a ‘happy ending’ could leave the viewers pulling their hair. So, let’s give this story an unexpected ‘twist’-the reporter who helped locate our hero is delighted when she gets a summon to appear before CIED and present her case, but alas, her joy is short-lived.

Just four days before her scheduled appearance before CIED, the female reporter, while going to work is abducted by gun totting assailants from a densely populated locality in Lahore in broad daylight. Even though this theme too has been overused in Bollywood for adding a ‘twist’ to the plot, but it has to be retained since there seems to be no other alternative. This abduction causes massive public outrage that spills into the international arena, and in a real ‘twist’ of events, her ‘missing complaint’ is filed with the very same commission where she had filed the report of the unlucky romantic she was searching for- surely, no script become as dramatic.

For her widowed mother and siblings, the psychological trauma caused by the reporters’ abduction is further aggravated by worries about her fate, which compels her inconsolable younger brother to commits suicide. Since the missing female reporter is also the sole breadwinner, financial woes dog her unlucky family. When all seems lost, our brave lady journalist reappears just as suddenly and unexpectedly as she had vanished two years ago and with the jailed boy for whom she had done so much also being released a year later, the story ends on a happy note.

Just to keep the option of making a sequel open (should the movie based on this story prove to be a box office hit), as well as to give it the ultimate twist, the closing scene shows the reporter being bombarded by a volley of questions- who kidnapped her? Why? Where was she kept for two years? Was her abduction in any way connected with her taking up the case of a missing Indian? As the camera slowly closes- capturing her face and focusing on the faraway look, in her eyes, spectators will on the edge of their seats to hear what she has to say.

But the movie ends without her saying anything and instead, on the frozen frame of her face, there appears the line with the message that after completing his six-year prison sentence in Pakistan, the lovelorn Indian boy for whom the Pakistani lady journalist had endured so much was released, a year later. Isn’t this storyline the ultimate in emotions and suspense?

The only problem with a movie based on this plot is that we won’t be able to use the disclaimer that “All characters and events depicted in this film are entirely fictitious; any similarity to actual events or persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental,” simply because it’s a true story. It starts in 2012 and the boy who fell in love online and took the arduous journey to Pakistan via Kabul to meet his beloved is Mumbai resident Hamid Ansari, while the lady reporter who took up his case is Zeenat Shahzadi and lives in Lahore. Sadaam was Zeenat’s 17-year-old brother, who unable to cope with her disappearance had taken his own life.

As per CIED chief Justice (Retired) Javed Iqbal, “Non-state actors and anti-state agencies had abducted” Zeenat and that “she has been rescued from their custody,” from near the Pakistan-Afghan border. But rather than clear the air, this statement has only raised more questions. In her 2016 interview with BBC Urdu, noted Pakistani Human Rights lawyer and activist Hina Jillani disclosed that before she had been abducted, Zeenat had once been “forcibly taken away by security agencies”, detained for four hours and questioned about Hamid.

After Zeenat returned home after her two-year long unexplained absence, journalist Raza Ahmad Rumi tweeted: “Best news today. Young Pakistani journalist Zeenat Shahzadi ‘missing’ for 2 years, is back. God knows what she went through. Accountability?”, and on re-reading this post, one will find that there’s a lot in-between the lines. But with Pakistani Human Rights advocate Mustafa Qadri posting “Great, journalist Zeenat Shahzadi, first woman journalist I’m aware of who may have been subjected to enforced disappearance, has been released,” little is left to imagination. The biggest unanswered question however is, why should “non-state actors and anti-state agencies” pick up Zeenat in the first place and then, release her unconditionally after two years?

Zeenat wasn’t working for the Pakistani establishment- au contraire, by approaching Peshawar High Court and CIED in an effort to trace out ‘missing’ Hamid, she had done just the opposite, since her petitions made things extremely unpleasant for the authorities, particularly Pakistan army and ISI. Whereas Hamid had been in Pakistani custody since 2012, it was only after Zeenat launched her mission to ‘find’ him, that forced Islamabad to make details of his arrest, trial and sentence public. A four year long and undoubtedly intentional delay in intimating New Delhi about the whereabouts of Hamid is a blatant violation of international conventions on arrest, trial and imprisonment of foreign nationals as well as the Vienna Convention.

So, why should “non-state actors and anti-state agencies” abduct someone like Zeenat whose crusade forced Islamabad to indirectly accept the existence of Pakistan’s deep state? Why should forces inimical to the Pakistani establishment kidnap someone who was furthering their aim of embarrassing Islamabad? Lastly, why is Zeenat silent on her travails? Is it just a voluntary attempt to purge the mind of the horrors that she endured during the two-year long memory? Or is it because she her ‘abductors have made her an offer that she can’t refuse?

Too many questions but no answers, but anyway, a very happy Press Freedom Day to all.


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Nilesh Kunwar

Nilesh Kunwar

Nilesh Kunwar is a retired Indian Army Officer who has served in Jammu & Kashmir, Assam, Nagaland and Manipur. He is a ‘Kashmir-Watcher,’ and now after retirement is pursuing his favorite hobby of writing for newspapers, journals and think tanks.

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