Traversing the lanes of Lahore when he first visited Pakistan in 2014 made Indian actor Imran Zahid reminiscent of old Delhi. And, on his just-concluded visit to Karachi, where he performed in the play "Daddy", he was all smiles to see Pakistani audiences being moved to tears. He said it had reinstated his faith that films and plays are a great "vehicle of peace".
"A movie or a play can be a greater vehicle of peace than all the lectures we give," the Delhi-based actor told IANS, adding: "Any message, if communicated through storytelling, touches a chord. We are also trying to do the same. I think India and Pakistan are young countries and theatre is something which obsesses the young."
"People say we have Utopian and unrealistic ideas about Indo-Pak relations, but we have a firm conviction that through the cultural space, India and Pakistan can bridge a lot of distances and one has one's own journey as evidence to prove that," added the actor, who's back to India after performing "Daddy" for Pakistani audiences.
"Daddy", a theatrical production based on Indian filmmaker Mahesh Bhatt's eponymous 1989 movie, was staged in Karachi as part of the International Theatre Festival 2015, organised by the National Academy of Performing Arts.
"Our play had been labelled as the top draw for the event as it was going to be presented by Mahesh Bhatt himself and Pooja Bhatt in the audience. Initially, it was scheduled for two days, but on public demand, they increased it to three days and three shows," Zahid told IANS.
A crew of 16, including the father-daughter duo, travelled across the border to regale theatre aficionados there.
There were packed audiences, Imran recounted. "We performed for the first time in Pakistan... We felt proud to represent our country at an international event. The auditorium was very similar to Delhi's Shri Ram Centre... It was completely packed."
They first took to the stage on March 30, but due to technical glitches, Imran said they couldn't give their "100 percent".
"We felt bad for the audience, and wish that if we get a chance, we will do a special show for the audience of the first show. But the second performance was superb! The audience was in tears and we got a standing ovation too," said Imran, who is a discovery of Mahesh Bhatt, and also played the lead role in the filmmaker's plays "The Last Salute" and "Arth".
Another step to bridge the gap between the two countries is the aptly titled "Milne Do", a collaborative cross-border project produced by Mahesh Bhatt and Sandip Kapoor in tandem with Lahore's Azad Theatre.
An intense love story between two culturally crossed individuals during times of hatred, "Milne Do" took Imran on his first visit to Pakistan in December 2014. He was nervous back then, but meeting a few Pakistani actors and singers changed his approach.
"Their appreciation of our efforts boosted my morale and I became excited about the prospect of cultural collaboration between talented Indians and Pakistanis. In Lahore, not for a moment did I feel that I was not in India.
"The food reminded me of the old Delhi lanes where I wander often to satiate my taste buds. The culture was rich, much like back home and I was simply bowled over by the warmth of my hosts. Upon my return, when I told friends in India about my experience in Pakistan, how I felt I have a second home there, that I will visit again, they could sense my joy," he reminisced.
That joy, as Imran's words reflect, has perhaps doubled this time around.ALSO READ: 'Sanaa' starring Radhika Madan to premiere at International Film Festival of IndiaALSO READ: Pooja Bhatt reflects on viral kissing photo with father Mahesh Bhatt