This one has Bollywood masala written all over it. India’s celebrities have been making all the right noises recently in support of greater bonds between the historically wrangling siblings India and Pakistan. Mumbai’s filmmakers have been gradually edging closer towards the border in an effort to collaborate with Pakistani’s film folk, while some very talented artists from Pakistan have brought musical diversity to the Indian scene. More recently, superstar Shah Rukh Khan voiced concern over the exclusion of Pakistani cricketers from the Indian Premier League, which led to a slew of unnecessary furore among certain Indian political circles. And now, the most current chapter of this forbidden love is the much-hyped upcoming wedding between Indian tennis star Sania Mirza and Pakistani cricketing all-rounder Shoaib Malik.
In January this year, Mirza broke off an already hyped engagement to family friend Sohrab Mirza, citing incompatibility. She then announced plans to marry Malik, which immediately catapulted them both to headline news on both sides of the border, and internationally. For one, the joint venture ‘Aman ki Asha’ (Hope for Peace) started by Jang Group of Pakistan and the Times of India has been working overtime with this story that couldn’t have been timed better. The branch of Jang called “The News” (in conjunction with Geo TV) has a thriving website dedicated just to this event packed with images, constant updates and a comments section.
Comparatively, the Pakistani media seems to be embracing this sporting match much more than the Indian side. Of course, it doesn’t help that there has been a rather big twist, which has given Indian press enough fodder to keep churning out stories every day: the case of the other woman. In the words of a blog post on Jang’s ‘Aman ki Asha’ page, “…this Indo-Pak love match has turned out to be yet another example of what has been absolutely key to Indian cinema – a dramatic spectacle of a just-to-be-married couple whose matrimonial plans are rudely interrupted by another woman who bursts on to the scene with “Thehro! Yeh shaadi nahi ho sakti!” The other woman in this case is Ayesha Siddiqui, whose family insisted that Malik had married her in 2002 and has since then had a marriage that has consisted almost entirely of phone calls. This is when some political voices started to come through, with some of the right-wing netas “advising” Mirza against marrying the Pakistani cricketer.
After the secret wife Siddiqui revealed herself to the world, Hyderabad police held Malik’s passport for further investigations and told him not to leave the country. India’s NDTV is one of many news mongers eagerly following these developments. In the words of one of their correspondents, “The Hyderabad police, already overwhelmed with controlling frequent and violent protests demanding a new state, recent communal riots in the city, and the infiltration of Naxals into Hyderabad, are now trying to get to the bottom of a love triangle.” Malik had reportedly neither accepted nor denied the existence of a first wife, but after being charged with everything from infidelity to abuse, he had to do something. So, a slew of secret negotiations later, Malik announced that he and Siddiqui had officially divorced according to Sharia law and the criminal charges were promptly withdrawn.
With the messy climax out of the way, Mirza and Malik have set their grand wedding finale in Hyderabad for April 16, with a reception in Lahore to follow. As fans on both sides of the border get ever more excited about this union not just of sports but also of two cultures, we’re forced to ask ourselves: are cultural unions such as the Mirza-Malik wedding or collaborations among film folk proving to be far more effective at building trust and peace than the good ol’ governments and politicians?