A Kashmiri speaks: Why Haider is a must-see film for every Indian
Bharadwaj’s Haider is one of the finest political films we may ever see coming out of Bollywood
Srinagar: No other state evokes patriotism among Indians in quite the same way that Kashmir does. So when it comes making movies on a strife-torn region, Bollywood filmmakers have always chosen to view the issue through nationalistic goggles.
That may perhaps explain a widely held opinion among the people in Kashmir that Bollywood has failed to present a realistic picture of political and societal tensions in this 24-year-old conflict.
Movies in the past two decades have either talked about the sacrifices made by the soldiers in Kashmir or present the people in a stereotypical fashion.
There is no doubt that no movie can perfectly portray the sense of injustice and alienation that the people of Kashmir feel today. But Vishal Bharadwaj's Haider, an adaptation of William Shakespeare's play Hamlet, has not just come close to portraying that uncomfortable picture but for the first time many Kashmiris are feeling an association with this movie.
Sheikh Saliq, a Kashmiri journalist based in Delhi said, “I can’t recall any movie coming even close to what Haider has achieved.”
Portraying the uncomfortable political reality of Kashmir remains a challenge for any filmmaker, more so when the issue lies at the heart of tension between the people of Kashmir and India.
As a subject for artists, Kashmir is highly political in nature and its mere representation ruffles feathers. That might be the reason Bollywood movies made on and in Kashmir are never taken seriously by the people of Kashmir. Talk to them and they will tell you how reality has been twisted and turned to suit the larger “nationalistic” narrative on Kashmir.
“There is every possibility that had there been cinemas operational in Kashmir, people would have repeated what they did after watching Omar Mukhtar’s Lion of the Desert.” Nadeem Mohammad, a Kashmiri fashion photographer based in Delhi, says.
Nadeem was referring to the Anthony Quinn starrer Lion of the Desert, a movie which every young Kashmiri wanted to watch, in the early years of insurgency in Kashmir. Young Kashmiris had besieged the theatre to see the film. It had reached the state four years after its international release and was screened at the Regal Cinema in Srinagar’s city centre, Lal Chowk.
Omar Mukhtar’s fiery heroism against the occupying forces in Libya electrified the students who conjured up parallels in their own lives. After watching the movie, the inflamed people charged at and tore down an outsized and ubiquitous billboard of the powerful political leader, Sheikh Abdullah.
Most of the young militants who later joined the insurgency in Kashmir had watched Mukhtar’s film.
Two decades have already passed.
Today’s Kashmir still presents a different political reality. If ‘The Lion of the Desert’ led to protests and tearing of a Sheikh Abdullah poster, Haider would have defiantly lead to a few stone pelting incidents.
But, thanks to the 7 September floods and the protracted war, people are scrambling to get their houses in order. The floods that hit the region have killed more than 280 people and rendered thousands homeless.
Bharadwaj’s Haider is one of the finest political films we may ever see coming out of Bollywood and reflected in its making is also the brilliant mind of acclaimed Kashmiri writer, Basharat Peer who, along with Bharadwaj, wrote the script for the movie. (Full disclosure: The author personally knows Peer as a fellow Kashmiri reporter)
Many scenes have also been drawn from Peer’s 2010 book, Curfewed Night, considered one of the most authentic narratives about the lives of the Kashmiri people. But instead of introspection, which is what a democratic society ought to do, right-wingers have taken to social media, calling for a boycott of the movie. #BoycottHaider trended on Twitter, while supporters of the movie are voicing their opinion on #HaiderTrueCinema.
Haider is a daring movie, and stands apart from Bollywood’s fascination with the Valley’s Dal Lake, flower-laden Shikaras and snow-capped mountains.
Although the movie has gone through 41 cuts, it still presents a strong political message about a period when most of the Indians chose to stay away from the famed Shikaras.
People should see it and introspect on the whats and whys of the wrongs committed in Kashmir.
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