NEW DELHI: My country comes first, filmmaker Karan Johar said today in an emotional video statement in which he pledged to stop working with Pakistani artistes but also pleaded the cause of his soon-to-be-released film “Ae Dil Hai Mushkil”.Confronting calls by groups to block the film starring Pakistani actor Fawad Khan, Mr Johar said: “Going forward I would like to say of course I will not engage talent from neighbouring country given the circumstance. With that same energy I beseech you to know one thing, that over 300 Indian people in my crew have put their blood, sweat and tears in Ae Dil Hai Mushkil and I don’t think it’s fair to them to face any kind of turbulence on account of other fellow Indians.” The 44-year-old said he had been silent for weeks because of a “deep sense of hurt and pain” that people believed he is anti-national. “When I shot my film in September-December last year, the climate was completely different, circumstances were different. There were efforts made by our government for peaceful relationships with the neighbouring country and I respected those efforts then, and I respect the sentiment today…because I feel the same,” he said. A group of nearly 450 cinema owners of four states has decided not to screen films with Pakistani artistes to respect public sentiment after the Uri attack last month in which 19 soldiers were killed by terrorists from Pakistan. Parties like Raj Thackeray’s Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) have threatened to vandalise cinemas that screen Mr Johar’s film if he does not drop Fawad Khan. Many in the film fraternity have backed Mr Johar. As tension escalated over India’s surgical strikes in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir on September 29 Pakistani theatre owners decided to stop screening Indian films. “I respect the Indian army, I salute the Indian army…I condemn any form of terrorism…I hope all of you understand the circumstance and situation we are in and respect the fact that we love and respect our country over and above anything else,” said Mr Johar. There has been some talk of why remained silent for the past two weeks. Today I would like to clarify why I remained silent. It is because of a deep sense of hurt, deep sense of pain that I felt, that a few people would actually believe that I am being anti-national. I need to say this and I say this with strength that for me my country comes first. Nothing else matters but my country. I always felt that the best way to express your patriotism is through love and that’s all I always tried to do through my work, and my cinema. When I shot my film Ae Dil Hai Mushkil – in September to December last year – the climate was completely different, the circumstances were completely different. There were efforts made by our country for peaceful relationships with the neighbouring countries and I respect those efforts then, those endeavors then, and I respect the sentiment today. I understand the sentiment because I feel the same. Going forward I would like to say of course I will not engage talent from neighbouring country given the circumstance. With that same energy I beseech you to know one thing that over 300 Indian people in my crew have put their blood, sweat and tears in Ae Dil Hai Mushkil and I don’t think it is fair to them to face any kind of turbulence on account of other fellow Indians. I respect the Indian Army, I salute the Indian Army for everything they do to protect us in our environment. I respect them with all my heart and I say I condemn any form of terrorism. Any form, especially the terrorism that would affect the people of my country and me. I hope all of you understand the circumstance and situation we are in and respect the fact we love and respect our country over and above anything else.