Post-Bombay, jokes about Pakistanis have suddenly proliferated on the internet. Surely, you would have received at least fifty of them by now in your mailbox. Some of these jokes are funny. But a large majority of them are still in bad taste.

There is no doubt that elements of the Pakistani state (the military and ISI) were behind the Bombay massacre with the Al-Qaeda, the Pakistan Taliban and the Lashkar-e-Toiba. But running down Pakistanis generically is no counter to the terrorism of the Pakistan state. Pakistanis are as good or bad as, say, Indians or Americans or Germans or Japanese. Governments are venal. For the venality of government, punishing citizens, or, as in this case of the Pakistani internet jokes, poking fun at Pakistanis, is cheap.

But the internet is a global medium. You can scarcely censor it. You can, but it is hardly worth the effort to ban all the circulating Pakistani jokes. Google, which is perfectly amenable to sovereign censorship (China has resorted to it often), may draw the line at raiding gmails carrying Pakistani jokes. But the damaged caused by internet jokes is ultimately limited. They would hopefully not provoke riots or violence.

Movies are different business. The power they exercise is extraordinary. In 1990, a Harvard professor, Joseph S.Nye, worked up a term called "soft power" whose direct opposite is "hard power" or the power to coerce through military and other means. If you set out to understand "soft power" by itself, it slips through your fingers. But if you take away "hard power" from, say, the huge (though diminishing) influence of America on the world, then you get a glimmer of the "soft power" it wields.

The instruments and causers of "soft power" may change and/ or aggregate over time. They could be writers, Shelby Mustangs, rock stars, Harvard, cities like New York, McDonald's, blue jeans, Apple or Bill Gates, frontier space and military technologies (but not their abuse), movies…. The Rambo movies successfully advertised US hard power. But even before "soft power" was defined, the Soviets employed a version of it via films like the classic Battleship Potemkin. The Nazis also understood the propaganda power of films.

More than democracy, India's biggest (cultural) export is movies. Bollywood and regional language movies command vast and growing audiences not only in South Asia or even Asia but in large parts of the world. Seeing the content of these movies (with some exceptions), this would seem an exaggeration, but not so. Add to this packaged music, TV programmes, and so on, and India's cultural influence is staggering.

In the loosest sense, this is "soft power" but unbacked by "hard power". This won't propel Indian state power ahead. For that, both "soft" and "hard" powers have to be played out in a calibrated, incremented way. The former US president, George W.Bush's first term was so dominated by "hard power" that it killed any chance of "soft power" succeeding in the second term. Professor Nye then worked out a new term called "smart power" that combines both "hard" and "soft" power. Hillary Clinton, the new US secretary of state, has been talking about "smart power" since her confirmation.

The point is this. The abused Pakistanis on the internet can't hit back unless they make Indian jokes (unproductive) or resort to hacking (pointless). But the Nepalese can jam your chief cultural export, movies, as they have done with the silly Chandni Chowk to China for claiming Buddha was born in India. Granted, India's "hard power" has decayed since the 1971 victory, but why squander such "soft power" as we have? Why can't Indian movies go through a minimal fact check, especially so friendly neighbours are not riled? It cannot be more ignominious to be portrayed as Big Brother when you cannot be.