To be honest, Bollywood Films on Kashmir are a subtle form of grey propaganda armed with superhero-like-soldiers-secret-agents and vilified rebels (most likely from Pakistan.) While in the backdrop are Kashmiris used to lighten the canvas with exotic undertones.
For example: The Indian soldier always falls in love with a Kashmiri women. That a wanted Kashmiri militant will change his mind after coming from ‘Sarhad Paar’ to join India, after the soldiers killed his parents in cold blood.
Or a scantily clad Tabu dancing in a hideout while ‘terrorists’ arm their perverted eyes on her cleavage. This is Bollywood stereotyping Kashmir which sadly the Indian people and others take up as basic education on Kashmir.
Coming back to Haider.
It opens in dark alleys of Kashmir in the year 1995, and the cries of “Hatayi Mouji” (Oh Mother) suddenly removes the prejudice that I came with.
The first two scenes bring you into the world of Kashmiri accentuated English and Urdu.
Doctor Mir performs an surgery of a wanted militant at his home. In a typical movie, the doctor would inject poison into his body to kill the ‘terrorist’. But here, the doctor is on the ‘side’ of life in this conflict.
Basharat Peer whose memoirs ‘The Curfewed Night‘ brought the new generation of Kashmiri literature on fore, wrote the screenplay with the powerful director Vishal Bharadwaj creating details so real that a common Kashmiri would be taken into the haunting horrors of the 90s.
Dr Mir watches his house brought down by the Indian Forces to kill a single militant makes one recall Sopore and Kaw Dara arsons. This holds true for thousands of Kashmiris who were internally displaced after their houses were bombed and brought down by Indian Forces.
Frisking scene at the Srinagar highway (finally somebody pronounces Srinagar right) and the mention of Anantnag as Islamabad which lands Haider, the protagonist in trouble. Linguistics had become a casualty in the 1990s. A bus conductor calling Anantnag as Islamabad would bring batons and gun butts for his sorry self. So the politically correct conductors would now call passengers to Khanabal on way the way to Islamabad town.
Problem for Indian viewers & reviewers who have blasted this film for its ‘anti nationalist’ undertones need to take their ‘integral part’ mindset outside the theatre. The same goes for Goebbels’ children in Indian media who suffer from verbal diarrhea when it comes to Kashmir, who instead of addressing the realities harp on their nationalism.
Salman and Salman duo who are hardcore-Salman-Khan-fans-turned-Indian-collaborators form an essential part of this canvas. By being on state payrolls and having access to Indian military complex they are ready to do whatever it takes for money. Not necessarily ‘their love for the Indian establishment’.
Chutzpah could be the title of the History of Kashmir. From Sheikh Abdullah joining India while carrying rock salt in his hand, to Nehru calling for Plebiscite while strengthening the Military occupation. Chutzpah indeed.
Search for his enforced disappeared father by Indian forces leads Haider to searches in prisons, camps and offices. One such scene where Haider shows his father’s picture to another such victim is poetic.
The scene where Haider gets on the bus of bloodied dead bodies is a scene which portrays the Gaw Kadal Massacre.
Creation of Ikhwan and operation ‘catch and kill’ by the Military Intelligence to raise a local militia (India’s Khmer Rouge) against the resistance will be an eyeopener for many Indians. Local Militia such as Fayaz Nawbadi who with the support of Indian State killed and raped thousands at will. In fact one of the militia became an MLA and another a recipient of Padma Shri for his ‘public service’.
Flawed premise of the movie for the resistance movement is based on ‘revenge’ for war-crimes not the Right to Self Determination or the Indian Occupation of 1947. A massive bummer.
Elections in the movie present a theatre created by Indian Military complex to dent the movement in 1996, which incidentally brought war-criminals such as Kukka Parray into state legislature.
Roohdar, the ghost basically turns the film on its head. The stories of torture and extra judicial executions in these underground prison camps is an eyeopener for many. The moment where a Kashmiri student is being tortured says “I am not a militant” makes one recall ‘I see Kashmir from New Delhi at Midnight‘ by Agha Shahid Ali.
Rivers and the lands across the valley are the homes of our dead. Unmarked and mass graves that dot landscape of Kashmir hide truth of the Indian army’s war-crimes. While as Haider found closure in the grave, there are 10000 other Kashmiris who are waiting for an answer. Who will make the dead speak?
Lal Chowk scene is powerful that will relate with Kashmiri sentiments. At the backdrop of the clock tower is a shop cheekily named ‘Dignity sales’. Shahid Kapoor does his best to immerse into the cloak of a Kashmiri battling identity crisis. But the only flaw is that an MLA is left untouched at a pro-freedom protest while in reality state personalities would be lynched.
The ending is a change from the old films where Indian Heroes dodge rockets and hundreds of bullets with a flagpole on their back, and not die. The old man who takes his son’s disappearance case with Khurram Meer is shown throwing a grenade at the Indian Milita. Costs of the occupations and wars include human lives and memories, be it of an occupying army or an innocent Kashmiri.
Haider sets a benchmark for Bollywood when it comes to Kashmir and the politics. But it fails to address the real issue of the Indian occupation and the denial of referendum being the cause of the armed rebellion not just the war-crimes inflicted on the people.
It won’t make a lot of money in the crowd which cheers Sunny Deol hitting Pakistanis with a hand-pump. But it would strike a chord with those who come with the open mindsets without prejudice. But the biggest positive is that in India a debate and discussion has emerged on the methods and impunity granted to Indian Army.
Could this be or not be, a shift in the Indian intelligentisia or would they still act as an Ostrich?
P.S: Remember 41 scenes were censored by the Indian Censor Board and Pakistan banned it. Playing Border-Border, eh?