It has been 16 years since the release of Veer Zaara -- a cross-border love story between an Indian Air Force officer and a Pakistani girl who is rescued by him. The film, apart from its stellar cast with names like Shahrukh Khan (Veer), Preity Zinta (Zaara) and Rani Mukherjee in the lead, was iconic for various reasons.
The essence of the film, however, was in the message of love and peace that it carried. The message is not only relevant even 16 years after its release, but is also more important now than it has ever been.
The movie saw the return of Yash Chopra in the directorial role, 6 years after he directed Dil Toh Pagal Hai. Veer Zaara’s playlist had an old school charm as well as an appeal to the new, and was curated from the late Indian music director Madan Mohan’s unused playlists.
Legend goes that Yash Chopra loved the song “Tere Liye” so much, it was his ringtone till his demise in 2012. And of course, the ever memorable album was also The Nightingale of India, Lata Mangeshkar’s last film as a playback singer.
But, somehow the movie was bigger than all of this. In a country riddled with sentiments against Inter-faith love, Veer Zaara took the bold step of portraying a love story between an Indian man and a Pakistani woman.
Love was the central theme of the movie, and not just romantic love; love in all shapes and forms that transcended all borders, as showcased by some of the supporting characters. Rani Mukherjee’s character of Shaamiya Siddiqui (Veer’s Lawyer) was based on the real-life Pakistani human rights activist, Asma Jehangir, which in itself was symbolic of hope and peace. Veer Zaara was a tale crafted by the fabric of acceptance and peace and hence, despite all differences, it was a huge hit amongst cinephiles, not only from India, but also from all around the world.
How relevant and important is Veer Zaara in the current political scenario in India?
Back in 2004, when it was released, the film was given the verdict of being a super hit.
However, the political situation was vastly different and much more tolerant than what it is now. After the series of attacks between India and Pakistan, India decided to stop all Pakistani artists from not only working in the Bollywood film industry, but also from entering India in general. Pakistani television shows were banned too.
India and Pakistan have had tensions around war and politics for a very long time, but that never really affected artists from either side of the nations, in the context of creating work in the neighbouring nation. The ban on Pakistani artists and Pakistani content, was an alarming sign as it showcased intolerance as well as severe censorship on artistic freedom. The current Indian government that harbours anti- Muslim sentiments and ofcourse very frequently uses “Pakistani “and “Muslims” as interchangeable terms, functions to rule on the principle of religious intolerance within the nation itself.
Keeping this factor in mind, it is only fair to foresee how a film like Veer Zaara would be banned had it been released under the current government rule. And that is exactly what makes it extremely important and relevant this many years later.
Veer Zaara questions the very values of the current Indian democracy that we stand on at this moment in time -- the values of severe religious intolerance.
It challenges the belief systems, while being the torch-bearer of love, hope, acceptance, and peace, and connects us all as humans, something that modern India needs to be reminded of once again.
We are all one at the end of the day, as Veer very lovingly reminds us at the end of the film, in his exoneration monologue.
That is why this film will remain an eternal timeless classic, that stands the test of time to remind us of the love we are all capable of giving and receiving -- a love that is beyond the shackles of religious intolerance and religious differences.
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