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27 May 2024

Indian Oscar winner Gulzar pulls out of Pakistan festival


A leading Indian poet who won an Oscar for writing song lyrics for the smash hit movie "Slumdog Millionaire" has pulled out of Pakistan's top literary festival at the last minute, organisers said Wednesday.

The move follows weeks of tension between the nuclear-armed neighbours sparked by the killings of five soldiers along the de facto border in the disputed region of Kashmir.

Syed Ahmed Shah, one of the organisers of the Karachi Literature Festival, confirmed Gulzar had pulled out -- just two days before the start of the event.

"We can't say about the reasons and circumstances that led to his return home without attending the festival," Shah told AFP.

Indian officials denied Pakistani media reports that they had advised the poet, who won an Oscar for the lyrics to rags-to-riches hit "Slumdog Millionaire" theme "Jai Ho", to return to India.

Vishal Bhardwaj, an Indian director travelling with Gulzar, said there was "nothing political" about the withdrawal.

The 76-year-old was simply "emotionally overwhelmed and stressed" after visiting his birthplace, in Pakistan, for the first time in 70 years, Bhardwaj insisted.

But a Pakistani film director who met Gulzar during his visit, told AFP on condition of anonymity that he left the country "because of some security concerns".

Gulzar was scheduled to read from his poetry as well as take part in discussion groups and Shah said his absence would disappoint millions of admirers in Pakistan.

"Pakistan had welcomed him with great warmth and zeal two days ago as he is hugely popular as well in our country," Shah said.

"His arrival was a great confidence building measure between the two neighbours and had boosted morale of the people living across the border for a better future relationship."