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The directors involved in the initiative seen at the ‘Zeal for Unity’ press conference.

AMRITSAR — Zee Entertainment Enterprises Ltd. announced “Zeal for Unity,” a peace initiative to bridge the gap between India and Pakistan through cultural experiences Mar. 15. The initiative took off at the Wagah Border with six Indian and six Pakistani filmmakers coming together and showing their support in a token gesture. We use the word “token,” because they have already supported the initiative and the 12 films are ready.

The channel feels that this is a momentous step toward changing the way people across India and Pakistan see, feel and think about each other. Though the Border Security Force is said to have denied the media permission to be there at the Wagah Border at the last moment (this had been announced in the itinerary and was the unique selling point of this trip for the media contingent), the photographers were taken for a photo-op showing the filmmakers meeting and greeting each other — on the Indian side but not AT the border. Like a photographer told this reporter, “Good you guys did not come! It was a complete anti-climax!”

At the main press conference held at the Sarhad Restaurant a kilometer away from Wagah, the filmmakers mentioned how the concept, along with the freedom to choose what films they would like to make, fired their enthusiasm, and they agreed instantly to ZEEL’s proposal that came via phone calls from Shailaja Kejriwal, chief creative of special projects, ZEEL. Punit Goenka, managing director of ZEEL, and Sunil Buch, chief business officer of ZEEL, were also present.

Sharing his thoughts about the initiative, Goenka said, “The Zeal for Unity initiative is in line with our corporate brand philosophy of ‘Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam – The World is My Family.’ The objective of this initiative is to bring together creative minds, filmmakers, cultural exponents and thought leaders from both India and Pakistan to facilitate an apolitical exchange environment of peace and harmony.”

Kejriwal, while thanking her bosses as well as her team, added, “The 12 films, especially created to celebrate this historic initiative, will be simultaneously showcased in both the countries. As we progress, we aim to continue this cultural dialogue between people from both sides of the border through varied forms of art.” 

Buch, explaining the logo that was unveiled with the tag-line ‘It Takes Two,’ said, “To do anything constructive in life, it takes more than a single individual or a solo effort. It takes two to move ahead, always. And that is the value proposition that we have chosen. A simple yet powerful thought that it takes two to bring change, and sustained change can only be brought about through concentrated efforts of people from both countries. 'Take Two' also fits in intrinsically with all art media, especially films, where it is multiple takes that bring to life the creative imagination and aspiration of storytelling that indelibly changes the hearts and minds of people. Also, the symbol as it is designed also indicates the ‘V’ or Victory sign.”

Here, in a nutshell, is how the filmmakers put it:

Aparna Sen / Film: “Saari Raat”:

“When I was approached, I was struck by ZEEL’s ancient Indian philosophy of Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam. And, in a way, the subject of my film 'Saari Raat (All Night Long)' is closely allied to this philosophy. A young married couple comes across a stranger who changes their understanding of each other, and of love and marriage. I hope this initiative will bring together the two nations through the medium of art and cinema, because we are so alike in so many ways.”

Khalid Ahmed / “Laloolal.com”:

“I instantly agreed, because I could see that it is an initiative for peace and understanding between the people of the two countries. There was no scope for refusing! It is a much-needed initiative, and I welcome it wholeheartedly. Artistic exchanges, especially through mass media, such as television and drama, can go a long way in creating an atmosphere of peace and harmony. Collaborative efforts in this direction provide us an opportunity to learn about each other and about ourselves, which is the first step towards a meaningful friendship.”

Bejoy Nambiar / “Dobara”:

“An initiative pooling the creative talent from both India and Pakistan is a rare opportunity. I really feel honored and humbled to be a part of such an interesting initiative and that too in such elite company. As excited as I am about my own movie, I am equally excited to see what others bring to the table.”

Farjad of Meenu-Farjad / “Jeewan Hathi”:

“Good films can go straight to the heart and even deep into the soul, so we hope this set of films is able to make a dent in the skewed ways in which most Indians and Pakistanis see each other. And since our language is the same, we can watch each other’s films.”

Mehreen Jabbar / “Lala Begum”

“Both countries share so much in common. I feel cultural exchanges like these are extremely important. They provide an exciting space for creative minds from both countries to share and engage ideas and stories with each other, and I am very excited to be a part of this project.”

Nikkhil Advani / “Guddu Ingiineer”:

“Anything that cross-breeds creativity with a humanitarian cause such as peace and harmony deserves to be encouraged. It is my humble endeavor to capture this spirit in the film I have produced and directed. After all, we look, eat, feel and above all, think alike!”

Sabiha Sumar / “Chotey Shah”:

“Films afford us the rare opportunity to see the old with new eyes. Audiences in both India and Pakistan will have the chance to look at subjects from each other’s perspective. There may be reactions of surprise at how similar the cultures are, and there may be greater understanding of the small differences as well. I hope this initiative will pave the way for greater creativity in films in both our countries.”

Ketan Mehta / “Toba Tek Singh”:

“This kind of exchange of ideas and inspirations can go a long way in bringing peace and understanding in this subcontinent. It is our duty to honor such initiatives. My best wishes for this unique endeavor. My film is based on Manto’s story, which I have wanted to tell since my college days. Dreams like these have no borders, and the globe has shrunk so much that cinema is now global.”

Shahbaz Sumar / “Khaemae Mein Matt Jhankain”

“This is an amazing platform. I am very excited to see the variety of stories from talented filmmakers across our great countries. It will be interesting to see if people can tell which films are from India and which are from Pakistan!”

Tanuja Chandra / “Silvat”:

“Not only does this give a filmmaker the unique and rare opportunity to make an artistic film, but it also gives us a chance to be a part of a peace initiative. I am honored!” 

Tigmanshu Dhulia / “Baarish aur Chowmein”:

“For me partition has been the biggest tragedy. This effort is to say that, “It was a mistake, and that we are one.”

(Dhulia, however, overdid it by stating that this was India’s way of asking forgiveness from Pakistan for the Partition. Really, Mr. Dhulia? Do you know your history?)

Siraj –Ul-Haque / “Mohabbat Ki Aakhri Kahaani”:

“I have no qualms in admitting that I became a filmmaker after watching Indian cinema! This is a cause that should exist among all individuals who yearn for a better tomorrow. This determination is the key to cultural prosperity among different nations, and India and Pakistan are no different. Through this initiative, we are trying to strengthen the bonds and solidify the friendship that exists between the common people of these two nations. By exchanging the cultural values, we learn to respect, honor and appreciate the lessons that we learn from other societies and races, which in turn makes us better human beings, and work towards the ultimate cause of global peace and harmony.”

The ZEEL team had coordinated this event shrewdly with an evening concert at Kanjeri Pol village’s heritage site Pulmoran, located off the Amritsar-Lahore road. The concert, which began 90 minutes late, featured artistes from across the border. Incidentally the Indo-Pak border is visible from the site in daylight and after sunset it is lit by orange lights.

Pulmoran is the site where Maharaja Ranjit Singh would take a break on the way to and while returning from Lahore, and has been preserved and developed by Saanjh, the organizers of the concert, which celebrated its 12th year.

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