Larki Punjaban: eye-catching across the borders

Lahore (Online): Larki Punjaban (Punjabi Girl) is the story of a Sikh girl from India’s north who falls in love with a Pakistani from over the border – directly against the tradition of demonising each other’s country in film.

Traditionally, Pakistanis do often turn up in Bollywood films – and Indians in Lollywood ones – but as the bad guys.

It’s a straightforward, run-of-the-mill eastern musical – with a bit of romance and drama thrown in,” South Asian film expert Neehar Bushan told.

“If you were to compare it with any other film made in India or Pakistan, I don’t think the storyline is any different.

“The only difference is the fact that it’s a cross-border Romeo and Juliet kind of story.”

Controversial project
The film is in both Urdu and Punjabi, and was shot by two directors – Shashilal Nair from India, and Syed Noor from Pakistan.

Its world premiere was in Bradford at the start of November, as the English city is the home of the production company’s marketing manager, Raja Tariq Mehmood.

The film tracks the couple through 55 years of bitterness between their families

But even up to the last few days, there were question marks over whether the film – which had been completed for over a year – would escape censors in both India and Pakistan.

Bollywood films have not been officially shown in Pakistan since 1965, and vice versa.

“Especially since the 1980s, Indian films have only been big in Pakistan via the piracy route and bootleg videos,” Mr Bushan said.

“In India, Pakistani films are hardly seen.”

It is not the first time that Nair has been involved in a controversial project.

Only last year, his film Ek Chhotisi Love Story (A Small Love Story) attracted a number of legal challenges.

Lead actress Manisha Koirala took Nair to court in Mumbai – and lost – after she objected to scenes involving a scantily-clad body double in the film.

The body double, too, threatened to sue Nair, claiming he owed her cash for a role she had only undertaken because she needed money for her mother’s cancer treatment.

“The fact that again [Nair’s] back in the spotlight with this film is not surprising,” Neehar Bushan says.

“It’s really interesting to see how this film is shaping up, with these two directors giving their own perspective to the story.”

Punjabi Girl is not, however, the first cross-border love story.

Those from across the border are traditionally the bad guys Indeed, the last film by Bollywood legend Raj Kapoor – Henna, which was released in 1990, was also based on this theme.

Kapoor died before he was able to begin filming, so this task was performed by his son.

“This was probably the first film about a Hindu boy falling in love with a Pakistani girl, and the whole story around it,” says Bushan.

“So it was an attempt to show that love can conquer all – that was the idea.

“But unfortunately, since then, in the 90s, the trend has been to make films that are not exactly love stories, but they’re based more on the Kashmir issue, or the scars of partition.

“That has been the trend that has been going throughout the 90s. So this film is coming back full circle.”

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