India and Pakistan in rivalry over films

PCB bans Agent Vinod for mocking security services.

by Jennie Kermode

Agent Vinod, widely referred to as the Indian James Bond, can be seen in UK cinemas from Friday, but he won't be seen in Pakistan. Yesterday the Pakistani Censorship Board moved to censor his latest adventure on the premise that it mocks the Inter-Services Intelligence agency, key to the government's fight against insurgency. But is there something else going on behind the blocking of a likely blockbuster?

Just four years ago, Pakistan lifted a 43 year ban on the screening of Indian films, but since then very few have made it to cinemas north of the border. When they do, they're wildly popular, and pose a clear threat to the success of home-grown films. With other foreign imports often meeting the same restrictions - usually for reasons of 'decency' - Pakistan lacks the thriving cinema-going culture of its neighbour.

The question is whether it's possible for a strong filmmaking tradition to grow up in the absence of a popular film-watching culture. It's currently popular for Pakistani talent to move south, as Agent Vinod's own heroine, Kareena Kapoor, has done. Star Saif Ali Khan has said that he regrets the PCB's move and expects Pakistani fans of the film will simply seek out pirated copies.

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