Films with Pakistani milieu are being shot in India
planning for Indian director Hansal Mehta’s latest project, Omerta, large sections of which are set in Pakistan, filming in that country was never considered seriously.
“I don’t think we would have returned. We would all have been heads if we had shot in Pakistan,” Mehta said during an interview at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), where the movie had its world premiere.
Omerta deals with Pakistani-origin terrorist Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh, who is connected to major terror events around the world, including 9/11 and the Mumbai attacks, and the beheading of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl in Pakistan in 2002. Sheikh was finally arrested by Pakistani authorities for Pearl’s killing and remains incarcerated after being sentenced to death.
Given Mehta’s Indian background and a script that points fingers at Pakistan’s ISI conspiring with Sheikh, there was little reason to believe their decision to film in Indian locations was misplaced. So, places such as Mumbai, Patiala and Lonavala became on-screen substitutes for Karachi, Lahore or Rawalpindi.
Omerta wasn’t the only film at TIFF to have Pakistan at the heart of the screenplay while being shot in India.
Norwegian-Pakistani filmaker Iram Haq’s What Will People Say had a section set in Pakistan’s Punjab province which was shot entirely in the cities of Udaipur and Ajmer.
As Haq said, “I didn’t feel it was the place I would film this movie and also the industry is so well (developed) in India, so I wanted to shoot in India.”
Both these instance point to a trend in international productions that look at Pakistanbased stories because of their dramatic potential. But even as the narratives are set there, the sets end up in India.
Haq collaborated with Mumbai-based Sikhya Entertainment for the shoot. This isn’t the first time Sikhya has transposed Pakistan into India. It was also among the producers for the 2104 movie Tigers, directed by Academy Award-winning Bosnian Danis Tanovic, which recreated parts of Pakistan in India. The reason given by the producers was that India’s film infrastructure simply worked for the project.
That’s one reason, but as Mehta referred to, security is a major consideration.
When director Mira Nair was making the film version of Pakistani author Mohsin Hamid’s bestselling novel,
The Reluctant Fundamentalist, she spent four days filming exteriors in Karachi but bypassed the country for the majority of the shoot.
She was candid during an interview in 2014, when it first screened: “We couldn’t get insurance to bring actors over (to Pakistan). Delhi is a sister to Lahore in many deep architectural ways.”
This phenomenon may have started with Angelina Jolie’s A Mighty Heart, based on the abduction and killing of Daniel Pearl. Director Michael Winterbottom had filmed in Pakistan earlier, and even shot a fair amount in Karachi, before security considerations caused the production to shift to Mumbai and Pune.
A scene from Mira Nair’s The Reluctant Fundamentalist, which was set in Pakistan but shot in India.