The movie pans on the mountains of Kashmir and the entire hall (which mostly had Indians-Pakistanis plus a few foreigners including Kashmiris in the audience) were left gasping at the majestic views. Shahida who is a mute is named after a Pakistani cricketer. Naming children after famous Pakistani cricketers, drama actors and dictators was a norm for many Kashmiris.
The mother and Shahida leave for New Delhi to pay obeisance at a shrine in Delhi. The father explains it’s more difficult to get to India from Pakistan than it is to go to America. This is a fact.
For Kashmiris on the Pakistani occupied side, it’s difficult to travel to India. Even for those who hold British or American passports who want to travel to Kashmir. For Kashmiris on the Indian occupied side, a visa to Pakistan can be granted within a day or two. But for Kashmiris on the both sides it’s cumbersome and it takes days to reach places which would be a few hours away if the ceasefire line didn’t exist to divide Kashmir. Occupational travel costs, eh?
Anyway, Shahida gets lost.
Shahida’s mother in pain tries to breach the border between India and Pakistan but in vain. It shows how the borders are not just political fault-lines but they also sear at every sense of humanity.
Shahida is lost and somehow she meets Pawan portrayed by Salman Khan. He’s the son of an extremist RSS village head (RSS is like the Klu Klax Klan of Hindus). His simplicity faces a battle against inherent prejudice and hate. He begins a mission to locate Shahida’s parents.
His future father-in-law, who he stays with, also an RSS worker is a Muslim hater who doesn’t rent a room to Muslim in his manor. So before the intermission, the family finds out Shahida is a Muslim and that too from Pakistan. She’s taken to the Pakistan embassy which refuse to take her in.
Cut short, Pawan manages to take Shahida across the border through the Thar with his unbelievable simplicity that wins over the Pakistani rangers. Here he meets Chand Nawab played by Nawazuddin Siddiqui who accompanies them in their journey.
The journey begins to the Pakistan’s held Kashmir after she points to a picture of Switzerland as Kashmir. In the normal world without conflicts it would take a two day bus journey to reach that side of Kashmir from Delhi. Only if…
To my disbelief a Qawwali is being sung outside a shrine. Well that’s a misrepresentation of Sufi culture of Kashmir. Neither side uses Qawwali in its culture, Sufiyana Qalaam is the Sufi music which is played. Maybe this was to add a song to the movie. But just to be clear, Kashmiri Sufi culture is not Barelvism as present in India and Pakistan.
During this song, Chand Nawab uploads the documentary on YouTube (FYI internet in both parts of Kashmir sucks) after Chand Nawab remarks that the media breeds on hate and hate sells. A poignant take on the rabid media of India which has been gaining TRPs on the basis of Pak-bashing and dehumanising-delegitimising Kashmiris’ right to freedom. Pakistani media on the other has been so indifferent to the point that it seems Kashmir is forgotten.
Shahida locates her mother on the video and they leave to reach her hamlet. Pawan is regarded as a wanted spy and he’s being pursued by Pakistani authorities. Pawan slips through a checkpoint but is taken to custody for questioning. Here comes the second most powerful scene in the movie:
Shahida finally sees her mother. The eyes of her mother gazes on her face and she breaks into tears. I kept imagining if this would be the scene when thousands of Kashmiri mothers would see their enforced disappeared sons who have been taken away since 20 years. I wondered if this is how they imagine their reunion to be.
The documentary ‘Bajrangi Bhaijaan’ gets viral and a march is to set to take place to defy the lines. This is the most powerful scene of the film, it could’ve happened for real in 1994 when Kashmiris marched from Muzzafarabad to break the line but were assaulted by Pakistani authorities..
It could’ve happened for real in 2008 when Kashmiris marched from Srinagar after the economic blockade by Hindu Zealots in Jammu. But this Muzzafarabad march led to death of scores of Kashmiris fired upon by Indian forces.
A few years ago, a Kashmiri mother crossed the ceasefire line to meet her son on the other side. This action almost resulted in a war-like situation.
In the final scene thousands of Kashmiris from both sides assemble near the line which is divided by the Jhelum and occupation. It was akin to the fall of the Berlin wall when Germans broke the divide and reunited with their own after decades. This is where the movie ends.
Bajrangi Bhaijaan doesn’t delve into the nitty-gritty of the Kashmir conflict. It tries to revive sense in this mindless jingoism of nationalism which breeds further hate. Here the dominant Indo-Pak narrative undermines Kashmir’s reality and also of its partition at the hands of Ind-Pak.
Kashmir becomes a convenient film set that minimises expectations of it presenting the reality of this disputed territory. Also the frequent usage of the term border instead of the ceasefire line between Kashmir is also a political misrepresentation.
Like Shahida, Kashmiris too have found their voice and it’s time that both India and Pakistan listen to them. As the Pakistani soldier tells the officer that “we are few and the people are many”, a time will come when Kashmiris on the both sides will come together and break the ceasefire line like the Berlin Wall.
Note: Watch this documentary which shows how Kashmiris on the two sides communicate at the ceasefire-line by throwing rocks carrying letters to their families on other banks.
p.s: For us Kashmiris, we cannot just expect an honest film on Kashmir. We have to be our own story-tellers.