New Delhi: Ahead of the scheduled release of Karan Johar's 'Ae Dil Hai Mushkil', which stars Fawad Khan, the Cinema Owners and Exhibitors Association of India (COEAI) on Friday announced that movies featuring Pakistani actors won't be screened in single screen theatres in Maharashtra, Gujarat, Karnataka, and Goa.
However, Dharma Productions later issued a statement, saying "'Ae Dil Hai Mushkil' has been cleared by the censor board and we are gearing up for its release on the 28th of October. Diwali is all about love and 'Ae Dil Hai Mushkil' is all about spreading love."
Talking to news agency IANS after a meeting of members, COEAI president Nitin Datar said: "We have nothing against Karan Johar. It's just that we won't allow the release of any film which will have Pakistani actors or technicians in it."
Notably, the COEAI has over 400 members.
"We have collectively taken this decision that we won't showcase such films in our single screens,” Datar said.
The COEAI president added: "We can't say we are banning these films. It's just that we are suspending all these films.
The COEAI decision comes amid tension between India and Pakistan in the aftermath of Uri attack last month in which 19 Indian soldiers were killed. The Indian Army then carried out surgical attacks on terrorist launch pads in Pakistani territory.
Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, Ranbir Kapoor, and Anushka Sharma play lead roles in the film.
Datar cleared that the decision was not taken due to any political pressure and that the Association was keeping "patriotic feelings" of people in mind.
"The COEAI has decided that keeping in mind the patriotic feelings and the national interest of our country all our members and exhibitors will refrain from screening movies which have involvement of any Pakistani artiste, technicians, directors, music directors etc," Datar told reporters.
"In future, if our (India's) relationship with Pakistan gets better, we will work towards it. But looking at the current scenario, we have to take this decision," said Datar.
The decision drew criticism from the film fraternity but it was welcomed by the MNS.
"I congratulate all the members of COEAI... I think multiplexes haven't taken any stand yet but we are firm on our stand that we won't allow any movie which features Pakistani artistes to release in Maharashtra," MNS leader Amay Khopkar said.
Censor Board chairman Pahlaj Nihalani said the decision is wrong as the film mostly features Indian actors.
Filmmaker Vikram Bhatt, actors Om Puri and Piyush Mishra have also said it is unfair to ban the films starring Pakistani artistes, which are ready for release.
"When you have decided that you won't work with Pak talent it should apply from now on, it can't be on something that has been already done in the past when the relationship was not this hard. I don't think it is right for one producer to pay the price of this decision," Bhatt said.
Mishra said Indian filmmakers should not work with Pakistani artistes till the time ties between India and Pakistan become better, but release of movies, which are already complete, should not be stalled.
Veteran actor Puri said it is not a decision made by the government and people should wait for the Center to take a step.
Filmmaker Shyam Benegal said while he has no views on the matter, the decision could have been "political, commercial or social."
Filmmaker Ashoke Pandit, an Indian Motion Picture Producers Association (IMPPA) member, said COEAI's decision is dangerous.
"Exhibitors Association not releasing completed films with #PakActors, due to fear of loss to property, is a dangerous trend. While IMPPA has banned Pak artists, it also believes that release of complete & underproduction films shouldn't be disturbed.”
"Govt of Maharashtra should intervene & give protection to theatre owners & film producers to release their films," Pandit tweeted.
In the wake of Uri attack, Fawad, Mahira Khan and other Pakistani actors were targeted by Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS), which had issued an ultimatum to them to leave India within 48 hours or be forced out.
The party had also threatened to stall the releases of the Johar-directed movie and superstar Shah Rukh Khan's film "Raees", starring Mahira as the female lead.
Subsequently, the Indian Motion Picture Producers Association (IMPPA) passed a motion to ban artistes from across the border from working in the industry till Indo-Pak relations are normalised.
It, however, said that the films, whose production has been completed, should not be targeted.
A lot is riding on 'Ae Dil Hai Mushkil', which stars heavy-weights like Aishwarya, Ranbir and Anushka, and also marks Johar's return to direction after a gap of four years.
(With Agency inputs)