Vishal Bhardwaj's Haider has irked both Hindu and Muslim hardliners: Here's why

By Sameer Yasir

Vishal Bhardwaj's Haider falls back on Shakespeare's classic Hamlet for its plot line. Like several other Shakespearean tragedies like Macbeth, Hamlet too has been adapted on screen with different political backdrops. Haider, in the same vein, succeeds in conveying a powerful sense of Kashmir's many conflicts.

However, no movie in the recent times has riled the Hindu right-wing brigade and Muslim fundamentalists alike as Haider has.

Last week, 65-year-old Ghulam Hassan Shah, Imam of the Bakhi Darwaza Mosque in Makhdoom Sahib area of Srinagar was in for a shock. He was first stopped from leading the evening prayers at the mosque has has spent nine years in and was then asked to pack his bags and leave for his ancestral village Qazigund.

A still from Haider.

This happened after people spotted him in a three-second role where he is seen reading verses from the Quran while solemnizing the nikah of Khurram and Ghazala in the film. The protesters, who wanted the Imam to leave reportedly said that it was un-Islamic for an Imam to appear in a film!

Following the expulsion of the Imam, on 7 October, a little-know Kashmiri Pandit organisation protested in Jammu. They burnt posters of the film as the song 'Bismil' from the film played in the background. Bismil had been filmed in the 7th century Sun Temple in Awantipora. The protesters also demanded a immediate ban on the movie.

Now the Allahabad High Court has issued a notice to the makers of Haider on the basis of a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) filed by Hindu Front for Justice, seeking direction to “restrain exhibiting of movie in any cinema hall” on the grounds that it was against “national interest".

The respondents Central Board of Film Certification, director Vishal Bhardwaj, co-producer Siddharth Roy Kapur and co-writer Basharat Peer have been asked to reply to the allegations made by the petitioner in four weeks.

There is little doubt about the fact that the film has some disturbing images whose effect is compounded by the fact that they portray the reality of Kashmir.

The scene where a young injured boy, jumps out of a truck full of corpses and dances around, ecstatically shouting, "I'm alive.". Or the scene where a young man is being tortured in a secret Army camp while he screams he is a student and not a terrorist.

For Kashmiris, this is not fiction. This was the reality of the state and its residents when insurgency was at its peak in 1995 - also the year in which the film is set. Ask any resident, or ask any Army officer who has served at that time, if they are honest they won't be able to deny the truth.

With a pitted battle being fought between the militants and the Army, civilians suffered relentlessly - that was the truth of Kashmir then.

The movie, however powerful, does not capture the complete story of Kashmir, which is much bigger, darker and complicated.

But if showing a sliver of reality has led to so many protests and cries of the filmmaker being anti-national, one wonders what would happen if the truth of Kashmir were to be revealed in its totality.

Pakistan has already banned the screening of Haider.

However, Haider is not the first film to face the ire of fundamentalists and traditionalists, irrespective of religion. In 1998, Deepa Mehta's Fire - a film about a homosexual relationship between two sisters-in-laws - irked right wing activists. The Supreme Court had to intervene to ensure protection to the filmmaker and associated people. Anurag Kashyap’s Black Friday about 1993 Bombay serial bomb blasts, based on Hussain Zaidi’s book Black Friday was not released for several years after it was made. Prakash Jha's Aarakshan, like Haider, faced trouble while trying to deal with the issue of caste in India.

However, the rest of the country, mostly, is probably evolving. The proof is in the fact that Haider, made on a budget of Rs 22 crore has earned Rs 50 crore and is likely to go up.