NEW DELHI, April 4, 2008 -- Leaving the theater after watching the new movie, "Khuda Kay Liye," the first Pakistani film to be released in India in more than four decades, Sahid Anmad and Samir Agarwal finally found something they could agree on involving India and Pakistan: they both loved Pakistani women.
Sure, it was easy to fall in love with Iman Ali, a real-life supermodel in Pakistan and the female star of the movie. But there was something else her character did that united these two Indian law students, one a Muslim from Kashmir, one a Hindu who firmly believed Kashmir was part of India.
"Someone who's ready to die, someone who is a religious fanatic, he will do anything because he has nothing to lose," Anmad told ABC News, sitting outside the theater after the first New Delhi screening of the film. "What the movie showed is that there are those of us Muslims who want what everyone else wants: to have a family. To have a good life. And to have a good woman."
"I have a problem with Pakistani politicians," Agarwal said, sitting next to his friend. "But I don't have a problem with Pakistanis or with Islam. And she," he says, referring to Ali, "she was beautiful. And she was inspiring."
"Khuda Kay Liye" follows the stories of two musician brothers who grew up in Lahore, Pakistan's most liberal city and its center for art and culture. One moves to Chicago, inspires a group of American musicians into spontaneous orchestration, marries an American but is then illegally detained and tortured by the U.S. government. The other brother becomes a radical, moves to a village along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border and fights the United States in Afghanistan.
The two twenty-something friends had just emerged from seeing the three-hour epic that many see as a symbol of cooling tensions between India and Pakistan, neighbors that have fought three wars. "Khuda Kay Liye," or "In the Name of God," became the first "Lollywood" film distributed widely across India since 1965.
India and Pakistan are still mortal enemies who both see Kashmir as their own. In Pakistan, "Kashmir Day" is a national holiday on which Pakistanis rally beneath banners that declare, "Stop Indian Atrocities in Kashmir." The Indian military is always on high alert along the border.
But the two countries had been in peace talks for nearly four years, and attacks across the border have fallen significantly during that time. Just today, the Indian external affairs minister called his counterpart in Pakistan and pledged to return to the negotiating table "at an early date," according to the Press Trust of India.
And there has been more and more cross-fertilization in the art world, from television shows to painting to movies.
"There is a misconception about Pakistanis in India," the movie's director, Shoaib Mansoor, told Agence France-Presse. "I hope this film will make Indians understand our society in total."
The majority of Bollywood's stars are Muslim. "Bollywood stars are more popular in Pakistan than they are in India," Anmad jokes, even though India's movies are banned in Pakistan. Ubiquitous DVD shops sell pirated copies of Hollywood and Bollywood movies for $1.00 to $1.50.
And "Khuda Kay Liye" is perhaps the most internationally acclaimed movie that the two countries are now trading. In 2006, Pakistan approved three Indian films for screening in Pakistan on the stipulation that India show three Urdu language films.
Ali stars as a half-British half Pakistan woman liberalized by growing up in London. She is tricked by her father into returning to Pakistan and marrying the brother who had given up music as un-Islamic.
It is deeply critical of religious zealots, one of whom literally steals the microphone from a moderate in the last scene in the movie. It is also deeply critical of the United States' response to Muslims living in U.S. after 9/11.
"Every person with a Muslim name was stamped a terrorist and being a Muslim became a crime," Mansoor told the Indian news service IANS. "The way America and the West are dealing the problem is very wrong — they are just trying to kill and suppress those Muslims who are being labeled as terrorists. And it will not solve the problem because if you will kill 10, a hundred more will emerge."
"Khuda Kay Liye" won the silver Pyramid Award at the Cairo International Film Festival and the Roberto Rossellini Award by the Italian film industry.
"It's a one of a kind wonderful film to come out of Pakistan," Ashok Ahuja, the director of Perfect Picture Company, which is distributing the movie, told ABC News. "With India opening up, you'll find the quality of the Pakistani films improving tremendously. The talent over there is tremendous."
When Pakistan banned Indian movies, the Pakistani movie industry dried up. Bollywood, the world's largest movie industry, produces about 1,000 films every year. Pakistan produces 40.
Ahuja, for one, is hoping that "Khuda" "opens the floodgates" of Pakistani movies into India.
"They had fewer cinemas over there and the returns were not that high," Ahuja says by phone from Bombay. "Now that you have India opening up, the returns will be there … and when the returns good, the quality will improve."
The movie, which was made for about $10 million, has premiered in the United Kingdom and the United States, mostly to positive reviews.
Walking out of a sparsely attended first showing in New Delhi, Anmad said he thought more Indians would see the movie as word about its opening spread. "Their movies are usually mediocre. This was an exception." And in better art, he hoped, would be better understanding. "As far as sports, movies, culture go, India and Pakistan are the same," he said. "Every day, we are sitting closer together."