What I think of Haider as a Kashmiri?
Usually I don’t write reviews and this is probably the first time I am writing one. The thing that motivated me to write is all the brouhaha about the movie. Many Indians declared it an anti-national movie for showing the Indian Army in a bad light while for Kashmiris, there has been a mixed response. Just like a friend Ruhan Naqash puts it, “The reality is, those Kashmiris who praised Haider didn’t expect even this much from Bollywood, and those who criticized it, expect too much”. It very much sums up the mind of Kashmiris pertaining to Haider.
Let’s be honest about the movie. It’s not a movie about Kashmir at all, but a movie that is set in Kashmir. It is Hamlet set in Kashmir. The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark has been the thing I have loved the most that has ever come from William Shakespeare. I haven’t found a tragedy as tragic as the one belonging to Hamlet. Vishal Bhardwaj has been known to adapt Shakespearean plays and adapt them into movies. He made Maqbool (based on Macbeth), Omkara (based on Othello) and now Haider (based on Hamlet) which is the third of his Shakespearean trilogy. All his movies have been of critical acclaim, but there has been nothing as buzzing as Haider. No doubts for guessing the sole reason for that, yes it is Kashmir.
Kashmir has been a bone of contention between two nuclear powers, countries who were themselves colonies in the erstwhile British Empire. More than the two powers who share equal claim to it, it has been Kashmir that has suffered the most. It has suffered politically, emotionally, economically and the most important, on accounts of lives. There has been literally no accurate estimate of how many Kashmiris have died till date and no estimate (God forbid more deaths) how many more the 67 year old conflict will take. How does it feel to make a fortified wall in a single house and divide a family? Yes Kashmir is divided by a wall they never wanted. They didn’t want to be separated by their own kith and kin. A wall that many attempted to break took many lives with it. Kashmiris haven’t been as lucky as the Germans who broke the wall that separated them. What place can be as tragic as Kashmir, where you don’t know whether you will return home after you leave in the morning? A place which is treated as a piece of land, where the world forgets that it has inhabitants too who are humans, who want to live and die peacefully.
Vishal Bhardwaj has used probably the most tragic place in the world to depict one of the best tragedies. And it has been an intoxicating combination, at least for me. Over the past few years, Bollywood has been coming back to Kashmir for movies. Some come only for a song sequence, while others set their stories in Kashmir with a local tinge. Most Kashmiris complain that Bollywood never shows reality pertaining to Kashmir and I am there too among the lot. Bollywood has always been unfair to Kashmir and it has always been showing what they want to see rather than what we want to show the world. Whether it has been Mission Kashmir, Lamhaa or some other movie, we watch it because of Kashmir in it not because of those stories they show which we don’t even consider worth discussion.
It was probably for the first time I was watching a movie for the story and not for Kashmiri locales. Honestly I didn’t expect it to be that great, especially after the Indian Censor Board had 41 cuts for the movie. Indian Censor Board has been one of the reasons that Kashmiri stories don’t find a place in the Indian commercial film industry. Kashmir as such depicted has only been depicted well in documentaries which include Jashn-e-Azadi (by Sanjay Kak), Inshallah Kashmir (by Ashvin Kumar), Kashmir’s Torture Trail (Channel 4), Ocean of Tears (by Bilal A Jan) and others. We identify ourselves with depictions like these and not by movies which are made for the Indian consumer who wants to have a wonderful 2.5 hours with his family and a bucket full of popcorn in the theatre.
Vishal Bhardwaj has entered a territory where no commercial film maker has entered till date. Yes Haider doesn’t tell you the story of Kashmir fully, but it takes that first step towards telling that. The first half of the movie have many stark facts which have never been heard in a theatre and I thank Vishal Bhardwaj for that.
The film starts with a depiction of the time of the events “1995 Srinagar India”. Was it necessary to omit Kashmir in it? There is a Srinagar in Uttarakhand as well. And even a pro-nationalist Indian would have loved to see a mention of Kashmir in the phrase, let aside a Kashmiri watching it.
A doctor trying to save a patient without considering whether the subject is a military man or a rebel much to the respect of the Hippocratic oath, just a replica of a scene in Mission Kashmir, though this time it is shown opposite to that with a perspective to show enforced disappearances. An encounter is shown just to depict the way how it is done where a house is blasted to finish an encounter with no consideration of the one who owns the house. But do only those disappear who have apparently connections with the rebels or have sheltered them? If you check with the kith and kin of those disappeared (APDP), many were taken randomly, some were taken because of animosity with the informer, and some because of other reasons.
A scene that shows the announcement of a crackdown by the troops shows them without shoes. But do they actually remove shoes in Kashmir while entering a mosque? I would say one in a hundred, that too if the trooper might be belonging to the same religion. There have been many incidents of desecration over the past many years where troopers have violated the sanctity of a mosque or the Holy Book.
When Haider returns, he finds a checkpoint to welcome him. The reference to the Islamabad question is wonderful. But were people only detained for calling Anantnag (official name) as Islamabad (people’s name) as shown in the movie? They were rather beaten. There was a time when mentioning of Islamabad invited the fury of the army personnel and they would thrash you for the same. The bus drivers who showed Islamabad as their destination were accordingly dealt with and told to change the destination to Anantnag. But Kashmiris as resilient as ever replaced Islamabad with Khanabal and not Anantnag. Khanabal is the entry point of Islamabad. Today as violence has waned, transporters have again started the use of the name Islamabad, a name that existed even before the country with the namesake as the capital was created and a name that exists in Sir Walter Lawrence’s book “The Valley of Kashmir” (1895).
Another scene that caught my attention was when Arshia’s brother Liyaqat catches Haider and Arshia together. The threat “Disappear kardunga” used to be a common threat at one point of time in the region.
A mention of half widows had come first in Lamhaa but this time it was a kind of inappropriate seeing a half widow romance his brother in law or having a Oedipus like situation with her son. Kashmir is a culturally sensitive place where usually such things don’t exist. Kashmiri women have faced the worst in terms of the conflict with rapes, sexual assaults as well as having their family members affected. Half widows are the worst affected lot among the Kashmiri women with husbands disappeared, children to support and no avenues of moving on with life. Showing a half widow from Kashmir doing such actions doesn’t match with Kashmir, though one may have a thought that it might be unintentionally included to go with the adaptation and not to malign half widows of Kashmir.
The scene where the army brigadier played by a stern looking Ashish Vidyarthi talks about history of Kashmir is something that doesn’t reflect reality. 1948 should actually be 1947 in the scene. When asked about the torture in Kashmir, the army brigadier mentions that their army is the most disciplined force in the world, something at which every Kashmiri would have laughed at. Disciplined armies don’t commit massacres like Gawkadal, Sopore, Handwara, etc or rapes like those in Kunan Poshpora or the case of Mubeena Gani. It was as ironical as Barack Obama winning a Nobel Peace Prize while he had his armies in alien lands in the Middle East and Afghanistan killing local populace with drones and bullets. The brigadier also refers to the tragedy of Kashmiri Pandits. The tragedy of Kashmiri Pandits has been one of the most unfortunate incidents in the history of the Kashmir conflict but at the same time, it is not a justification for the injustices meted out at Kashmiri Muslims. Usually Indian nationalists refer to human rights in Pakistan Administered Kashmir when asked about human rights in Indian Administered Kashmir, but is it worth speaking? Have you ever seen a murder accused seen himself defending by saying that look there is a murder accused sitting in the crowd, so exonerate me of my crimes? Yes, the former mentioned excuse looks exactly ridiculous. Though at the same time taking the argument, there are hardly any violations on that side.
When establishing the Ikhwan ul Mukhbireen organisation, the movie points at two things. First of all the usage of houses belonging to Kashmiri Pandits who left the valley as torture centres/military camps. Second, the issue of fake encounters where Lalit Parimoo clearly says “Aaj kal ek militant ka daam 1 lakh hogaya hai”, something that clearly shows the lust for encounters among security forces for promotions, cash and gallantry awards. There are many fake encounters that happened in Kashmir and nearly all of them still haven’t seen the light of justice.
The film has shown the emergence and the rise of Ikhwans and literally all the blame of the bad activities done have been thrown on their shoulders while the army has been shown innocent. Yes, Ikhwans were notorious and cruel, but the question remains who encouraged them to commit atrocities, who gave them money and arms for their operations, who proposed Padma Shris for them and were they the only ones in committing the atrocities?
It was nice to see torture/interrogation centres shown in the movie even though they were named with similar sounding fake names, Mama 2 (for Papa 2), Bobo Land (for Gogo Land) or even Faraz Cinema (for Shiraz Cinema). The scenes depicting the torture techniques, many of which already suffered cuts from the Censor Board was still powerful. But were people who were tortured all rebels/militants as shown except for a youth shown saying ”Maine Kuch Nahi Kiya”? Clearly not.
The movie referred to the unmarked graves with a clear mention of Boniyar. It’s interestingly something that the state admits and denies at the same time. There are many unmarked graves in the state with no knowledge about who the buried are, while most probably they are those who have been disappeared in custody.
For me, the scene that stole the show was when Haider was at Ghanta Ghar and giving a speech. Standing at Ghanta Ghar reminding the viewers of the promise India’s first PM made to Kashmiris at the same place, reminding of the UNSC’s resolution passed in the 1940s which yet awaits implementation, of which Parvez Lone (Lalit Parimoo) separately says in a scene with Haider. The slogans “Hum Kya Chahte Azadi – Is Paar Bhi Lenge Azadi, Us Paar Bhi Lenge Azadi” silenced everyone in the theatre.
The most amusing thing was the Kashmiri pronunciation of English (lov-ed,etc used by both Shraddha Kapoor and Tabu) used in the movie. Though many of us speak with the same style but we don’t do it as much as the film has laid stress on it, more than required.
The Bismil song shot in the town of Mattan didn’t amuse me at all. Was that costume relevant to Kashmiri culture in any way? The movie claims to be set in 1995. At that time, there was no cellular telephony in Kashmir, but the song has a cellular tower in the background.
There have been many scenes in Haider that have been poignant for only those who understand them, not for those who only find silence in them. One of them includes when a mute Basharat Peer refuses to enter his home until frisked. For people around me, they never understood it because that seemed something comical though it was something painful for someone who understood. The scene where Haider shows his disappeared father’s picture to a lady who had also come with a photo to the camp, and all they could do is silently sympathise with each other. I have seen that scene of support that the kin of the disappeared give to each other at an APDP sit-in, I once went to attend. The lines at the military camp “Catch them by their balls, hearts and minds will follow” are known to be from a famous torture centre which has been known for its grave methods of torture.
And last but not the least, the Hebrew word “Chutzpah” pronounced as “hootspa” and not “Chootzpah” as shown in the movie. The word which has the meaning of insolence and impudence is apt with the situation in Kashmir especially when it also rhymes with AFSPA(acronym for Armed Forces Special Powers Act), an act that has always been violating basic human rights and justice in Kashmir as well as north eastern states of India. It’s a law that is basically the cause for the human rights violations by security personnel without actually caring for the rule of the land, because it clearly exempts them from law, encouraging crimes.
I appreciate Vishal Bhardwaj for having Kashmiris in his movie whether it included Aamir Bashir, Lalit Parimoo, Basharat Peer, Sumit Kaul, singers from the Bhawani family or all those who aren’t even professionals. Using Kashmiri catch phrases like “Mouji”,”Myuan Soneh Gobur” or even the Kashmiri songs like “Roshe Walaa Myaani DIlbaro” or Rasul Mir’s lines sung by Shraddha Kapoor was great and gave a feel about Kashmir.
One Haider is clearly not enough and will never be enough. Though there are many documentaries made on Kashmir which tell you far more comparably, this is unarguably the first commercial Bollywood film that presents uncomfortable questions to the Indian viewers pertaining to Kashmir. That’s why it has created a buzz in India.
Kashmir at the end of the day is a political problem and it has to be solved. Just like Lalit Parimoo says in the movie “Jab do haathi ladte hain, to sirf ghaas kuchaljati hai”, in the conflict between India and Pakistan, its Kashmiris who suffer whether at the borders or in the mainland. It’s high time that the Kashmir issue is resolved as per the wishes of the people of Jammu & Kashmir and not as per the wishes of the Indian and Pakistani people or their respective governments.
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