Relations between India and Pakistan, two nuclear-armed neighbors, are in trouble again. And this time, the crisis is affecting the entertainment world. NPR's Philip Reeves sent this report from Rawalpindi, Pakistan.
PHILIP REEVES, BYLINE: We've come for a night out at the movies. People step in from the heat and dust, load up with popcorn and Pepsi and file into the theater for an air-conditioned dose of escapism. Tonight, though, there's one big difference. Absent from the five big screens here is anything from India's Bollywood. Bollywood movies are extremely popular in Pakistan. They bring in more than half the country's box office revenues.
Yet Pakistan's cinema owners have now decided to stop screening them.
NADEEM MANDVIWALA: It is very painful. It is very, very painful. But did we have a choice?
REEVES: Nadeem Mandviwala, one of Pakistan's biggest cinema owners, says they're temporarily suspending showings of Bollywood movies as a protest. The trigger came from across the border from a call by the Indian Motion Picture Producers Association to Bollywood movie makers to stop hiring Pakistani artists until things calm down.
MANDVIWALA: There had to be a response to tell them that what you're doing is wrong.
REEVES: This dispute's a byproduct of an unusually severe crisis in relations between India and Pakistan. Tensions soared last month when militants attacked an Indian Army base in Kashmir and killed 19 soldiers in the bloodiest attack in years. India blamed Pakistan. Threats and accusations are flying back and forth. Back in the movie theater, the absence of any Bollywood blockbusters gets mixed reviews from customers. Sohail Yousaf’s a student.
SOHAIL YOUSAF: (Through interpreter) It's a good idea because Pakistani films should be promoted.
REEVES: Sehrish Zeeshan, a housewife, disagrees.
SEHRISH ZEESHAN: Yeah, I think they should not do this because politics is politics and this is for the entertainment. They should not mix both things.
REEVES: The trouble is politics in South Asia always gets mixed up with pretty much everything. Cultural ties are put to political use to build bridges between Indians and Pakistanis at times of tension, says Raoof Hasan of Pakistan's Regional Peace Institute.
RAOOF HASAN: Our dramas are witnessed in India, seen in India. Their films are seen here. Why not add to this activity? Why not enhance this activity so that it becomes a counterweight to war? And why is it that we want to stop everything which is good?
REEVES: Pakistanis have been around this block before. Until 2007, Bollywood movies had been banned from cinemas by the government for more than four decades. Pirated Bollywood films were always easily available, though, in the markets. They still are. This market in Rawalpindi is stacked high with pirated DVDs.
SHAQEEL KHAN: Best Bollywood movie at the moment is "Rustom."
REEVES: There's plenty of choice, says stallholder spokesman Shaqeel Khan.
How many rupees is this — how much?
KHAN: This is 100 rupees.
REEVES: That's $1?
REEVES: That's quite cheap.
KHAN: Quite cheap, quite cheap, very cheap, very cheap.
REEVES: Philip Reeves, NPR News, Rawalpindi.