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The South Asian Film Festival, currently being held in Goa, is opening people’s eyes to the wide range of film industries in South Asia — an area of 2 billion people. Actress/Director Pooja Bhatt, attending the festival, believes it could become even more important the International Film Festival of India. She says that talent abounds throughout South Asia and she recommended films such as Osama from Afghanistan and Golden Cup from Bhutan — a country of less than a million people which succeeds in producing around 15-20 commercial films a year — mostly shot on digital video.

Pooja recently premiered a film in Pakistan and is working with a Pakistani actress for the next movie she is directing. Would she act in a Goan film? “If someone asks me to act in a Konkani film, I may not refuse. But so far, no one has asked me,” she replied.

Pakistani actress Zeba Bhaktiyar, also attending the festival, expressed disappointment at the number of times Pakistanis are shown as villains in Bollywood movies “Pakistanis love to watch Bollywood films. But, they feel awful and offended as all the villains portrayed in them are Muslims. I always feel that religion is one’s private affair and a way of life.”

Now that Bollywood movies are legal once more in Pakistan — even though they have been widely available on DVD for many years — it’s likely that this trend will decrease and in itself, this should lead to improved inter-communal relations.

Zeba came to India in the early 90s, at the time of the inter-communal riots in Mumbai, to make Heena. Zeba said she was first apprehensive of coming to India to shoot for the film. “It was a time when India-Pakistan relations were not at its best and then there were the communal riots in Mumbai. People in Pakistan thought that since it was a Raj Kapoor film, there would be exposure and the theme would be anti-Pakistan,” she explained. In fact, Heena was a love story breaking down Indo-Pak barriers at a time when it was most needed — it was Raj Kapoor’s last movie, he died whilst making it — and a positive statement on tolerance and integration in the South Asian community.

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