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Urmila's date with Pakistanis

Screen Weekly

Posted: Apr 02, 2004 at 1233 hrs IST

Urmila Matondkar is one actress who seriously believes that she can use her charisma for a good cause. Following her much talked about trip to the Wagha border, for the promotion of her film Pinjar, Urmila recently travelled to Pakistan as a goodwill ambassadress. The actress talks about her emotions and experiences connected with the trip.

It speaks volumes about the strange dynamics of the Pakistan India relationship that at one minute relations are so strained that there is talk of nuclear war, and the next there is a virtual cross-pollination of people committed to the idea of peace. Recently Pakistan saw much activity of the latter kind. The Zone D playoffs of the World Cup Polo in Lahore witnessed the arrival of India’s polo team and many keen Indian polo aficionados, including Gayatri Devi (the Rajmata of Jaipur) and the Maharaja of Jodhpur. A band of 60-odd peaceniks arrived at Wahga from across the border to attend a peace conference in Karachi; The KaraFilm Festival saw outspoken director Mahesh Bhatt and his daughter Pooja do their stuff in Karachi.

But perhaps the biggest furore was created by the arrival of Urmila Matondkar from India, a furore that perhaps veiled the importance of her presence in Pakistan. It all started when UNDP commissioned the award- winning Pakistani production house ‘Serendip’ to make a documentary called ‘Moving Closer’ in preparation for the SAARC Conference that was to take place later in Islamabad. But as Huma Beg of ‘Serendip’ commented, ‘‘Promoting peace within the region is a tall order because the region is extremely diverse, and SAARC countries have little in common except for pop culture’’.

‘Serendip’ then evolved the idea of taking artists of one region to another to transmit their experience of the culture there. They were given funding to take a Pakistani to Mumbai, to cash in on the Bollywood mania that has hit the west.

But they wanted the first programme to be about Pakistan, and invited Prahlad Kakkar, an ace Indian advertisement director, to bring a model here. The idea grew till the concept of a model was replaced by that of an actress. Urmila’s name was suggested - perhaps because she is increasingly being seen as a serious actress as well as a glamorous one, thanks to roles in films such as Pinjar, based on Amrita Pritam’s book.

Then it was decided that the documentary should incorporate a music video and the Pakistani band ‘Fuzon’ was signed on. Local stars Resham and Shamyl were also chosen to feature in the documentary. Along with Kakkar, who directs the video, Pakistani Saquib Malik was chosen to co-direct it, with filming production undertaken by Dr. Farooq Beg of ‘Serendip’.

Urmila’s arrival in Lahore unleashed a tornado of hyperactivity. Wherever she went for her shoots, Bollywood-crazy fans engulfed her. peding. Dressed in a locally bought outfit and Khussas, she looked better than on the screen, without the mandatory Bollywood tinsel and glitter.

Tell us about the documentary.

I am so glad you asked about the documentary, because the vidoe is a very small part of it. The video is just there because the element of pop culture makes (the process of understanding the documentary) quicker.

‘Moving Closer’ is about people. Nations are made by people, and it is the people who are the biggest driving force behind most of the decisions that have been made all over the world. People unite and decide this is not what we want, and this what we want. I feel that two nations who have been a part of each other once upon a time, can’t have so much animosity against each other. Anytime any one comes from (one country to the other), they are from Maharashtra, a Central part of India, not Kashmir or the Punjab. Nevertheless, when I came to the border for the first time, (for the shooting of Pinjar), I was crying away. This time too, I felt I might cry any minute.

My father is in Pakistan for a forum in Karachi. I also wanted to attend it, but could not get a visa. This forum has been in service for the last ten years. It consists of people who meet every three years and exchange views on bringing about peace.

So there has already been an effort on a very small scale. Being an actress, the biggest advantage I have today and that I want to extend to this cause, it that I can reach a larger audience. So, in the documentary, through my interaction with the upper, the middle and lower classes, we wanted to show how similar we are in our thinking, upbringing, culture, in everything.

How did you come to be in the documentary?

Through the offices of ‘Serendip’ Productions, based in Islamabad. Very nice, hadworking and social-minded people. Unfortunately, because they steer away from the limelight, people didn’t know about them. They had been working very hard on this in collboration with Prahlad Kakkar, who is a big ad film-maker in Bombay. They have been trying to get a very big film star. But I don’t think you can do this kind of thing unless you feel for it. You can’t come here and speak out of a vacuum. You have to know what you are talking about.

What exactly is your role in the documentary?

Basically I come as an ambassadress for Peace. From the UN, I don’t wan’t to say from India, because in India also there would be some elements that would be negative for this project, or people who will see something wrong in this, Yeh to hona he hai. The person who takes the first step has to bear the brunt of that first step.

I am the ambassadress who illustrates the common link between the two nations. Today, I went about to do some shopping. I went into the heart of Lahore, had paan, interacted with people. And through that we are trying to show, and spread the message that the minute I am gone the process should not stop this is what we call the ignition point in a very being process to hopefully follow.

Were your perceptions about Pakistan different before you came here?

Yeah, in the sense that I knew that people here watch Hindi movies and are crazy about Hindi film stars, but the tremendous love and affection that I received was completely overwhelming. I kept on asking everybody that I want all the Chiken work and was told about Bareeze. Then I asked about the long shirts that we associate with Pakistan, and was told that they are out and short Kurtas are in, so I had a look at those. Then I had a look at the khussas. (She points at the pair she is wearing)

I believe you were mobbed a bit?

I was mobbed a lot!

So did you mind that?

I don’t think so. A, that’s a part of being an actress, and B, the purpose with which I have come here is served better if I interact with the people. Being an actress, that was the whole point. It was not very comfortable all the time, it was a bit scary in fact, but on a larger scale, it served a bigger purpose.’’

One walked away with the distinct impression that Urmila Matondkar is one ‘Bollywood star’ who wants to expand the limits of what that term usually implies.

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