KARACHI, Pakistan (Reuters) - Pakistani cinemas have stopped screening Indian films in "solidarity" with the country's armed forces, after an escalation of violence in disputed Kashmir between the nuclear-armed neighbors, theater owners said on Friday.
Tension between India and Pakistan has been high since an Indian security forces crackdown on dissent in Indian-controlled Kashmir began in July. Relations worsened in September after militants killed 18 soldiers in a raid on an Indian army base, an attack New Delhi blames on Pakistan.
"We have stopped screening Indian movies at our cinemas from Friday till the situation improves and normalcy returns," said Nadeem Mandviwalla, whose Mandviwalla Entertainment runs eight cinemas in Karachi and the capital, Islamabad.
India said on Thursday it had carried out "surgical strikes" in Pakistan-administered Kashmir, a claim that Pakistan condemned and denied.
The Indian Motion Picture Producers' Association (IMPPA), a small filmmakers' body, on Thursday banned their members from hiring Pakistani actors. Mandviwalla and other cinema owners said the ban in Pakistan was also in response to IMPPA's move.
Indian media reported that a leader of regional right-wing party, Maharashtra Navnirman Sena, last week gave Pakistani actors 48 hours to leave India or faced being "pushed out".
The party, which was not available for comment, is one of two hardline parties based in Mumbai that has regularly called for Pakistani artists to be banned from working in India.
Indian films are spectacularly popular both at the cinema and on bootlegged DVDs in Pakistan.
Pakistan's domestic film industry has seen a revival in recent years, but is dwarfed by India's Bollywood. Pakistani actors have increasingly been appearing in big budget Bollywood films in the last few years.
Some Indian actors came to the defense of their Pakistani counterparts.
"They are artists. These are two different subjects. They were terrorists, these are artists. What do you think, artists are terrorists?" Salman Khan, one of Bollywood's biggest stars, told reporters when asked if Pakistani actors should be forced out.
Khurram Gultasab, general manager at Super Cinemas, which runs ten cinemas in cities across Pakistan's Punjab province, confirmed his group would also not be screening Indian films.
"I think we should show solidarity with our army engaged at very hot borders right now and secondly with our actors," said Gultasab. He said the move had been made by cinema owners themselves, rather than on government directions.
Other Pakistani cinemas posted on social media saying they would not be showing Indian films after Thursday's violence.
Additional reporting by Shilpla Jamkhandikar and Aditi Shah; Writing by Asad Hashim; Editing by Nick Macfie