Access Bollywood, 40 Years Late


Pakistan's President, Pervez Musharraf, has given a tentative thumbs up to the showing of a classic 1960 Indian film, Mughal-e-Azam. On the surface, this is a big deal; Indian films, massively popular elsewhere in Asia, have been banned in Pakistan since 1965. But the popular reaction to the latest development in the India-Pakistan detente has been decidedly blase. That's because much of Pakistan has already seen Mughal-e-Azam and pretty much everything else Bollywood has pumped out since the ban went into effect. Thanks to home video, satellite television and a thriving trade in pirated DVDs, Pakistanis have been watching Bombay's frenetic three-hour long musicals for decades, in every conceivable venue other than theaters. In fact, Pakistan's failure to crack down on rampant piracy has long been seen as a kind of "industrial sabotage" meant to harm India's film industry. Now that Musharraf is trying to make nice with his neighbors, he may actually have to start restricting the country's intake of pirated Bollywood productions; that would evoke a reaction that the long-delayed screening of an ancient film never will.