Haider is not 'fair' but that is not a reason to boycott it
Let us count our blessings.
#BoycottHaider could easily have been #BanHaider or #PicketHaider or #RansackMovieTheatresShowingHaider.
We live in a country where the right to be offended has become a fundamental right. Taking offence is a competitive sport in this country. Whether it’s books, paintings, films, we are trigger-happy about demanding bans at the drop of a hat.
It could be Muslim organizations calling for a ban on Kamal Haasan’s Vishwaroopam because they don’t like how their community has been depicted. Or it could be a political party like Congress up in arms about the Punjabi film Kaum de Heere saying it glorified Indira Gandhi’s assassins. Hindu groups attacked Deepa Mehta when she tried to film Water in Varanasi and that film had to be secretly made years later, under a different name, in Sri Lanka. Even a group of barbers got into the act protesting against the Bollywood film Billu Barber which was eventually released as just Billu says Soutik Biswas of the BBC.
A film about the politics of Kashmir is ripe for triggering bans. It’s a hot-button topic riddled with all kinds of tripwires. There is no way a film about Kashmir, even if it never ventures beyond shikaras on the Dal Lake, can avoid offending someone or the other. But it’s an enormous relief that those offended by Haider (many of whom as usual have not seen it) have at least chosen a democratic and legitimate form of dissent.
As a judge told the All India Human Rights and Social Justice Front when it called for a ban on Aamir Khan’s PK, if you do not like a film you can choose not to watch it. It does not mean you can take away other people’s right to watch it.
But having said that it’s also rather pointless to call for a boycott of a film that's unabashedly political for being unabashedly political. “Political cinema has never been known for its 'neutrality' (that defeats the purpose of making a political film). Perhaps, it is time for us to grow up and take it on the chin - however uncomfortable that makes us,” observes Shobhaa De on NDTV.com.
There is no reason even a documentary, let alone a feature film, must be neutral. The story of the Kashmiri Pandits is a legitimate story that needs its own chronicler. It’s not a burden that every film about Kashmir must carry in the interests of being fair.
Hamlet is not a “fair” play that gives equal airtime to all the factions in Denmark. There is no reason Haider should be scrupulously “fair” either when it comes to Kashmir. It just needs to be true to its characters. It is not meant to be a dispassionate account of what the army is doing in Kashmir. But it needs to feel authentic in its depiction of what its characters’ perception of the army is and that can be different from the ground reality.
Anyway you have to be exceptionally naïve to think an army occupying an area at a time of enormous militancy is only engaged in humanitarian work and never steps outside the bounds of the rule book. The film, in fact, perhaps conscious of charges of bias ends with a slide saluting the army for its humanitarian work during the recent floods.
But even Northern Army Commander Lt. Gen D S Hooda who led that effort tells Ajaz Ashraf of Firstpost that “(t)he relationship between the Army and the people of Kashmir, and the past history cannot be swept away by the floods and media reporting of this disaster. It is something that we have to mutually work on to earn each other’s respect.”
A film like Haider would be patently false if it pretended that history did not exist. The scene where the villagers line up with their IDs in front of a masked man who indicates with just a flick of his eyes who is dismissed and who is hauled off into detention and perhaps disappearance is more chilling in its humiliation and terror than the much talked-about torture scenes. When Shahid Kapur’s Haider sings Sare jahaan se achha in the town square it is suffused with bitter irony.
Yet the film also pointedly opens with a slide that says Srinagar India as opposed to Srinagar, Kashmir. Perhaps that is why Pakistan is mulling a ban on the film.
It is to Vishal Bhardwaj and Basharat Peer’s credit that they offer some nuance even to the characters who would conventionally be villains in a mainstream Hindi film context. Pervez Lone who plays the Polonius character might be the police superintendent ordering Haider be taken away and killed but he’s also shown as a loving father who tries to protect his daughter, even from her hot-headed brother.
There is no doubt what the film’s characters think about AFSPA but that does not automatically make the film anti-Indian. AFSPA cannot be sugar coated. If there’s a moment the film tries carefully to walk a fine line, it’s early in the film when Haider’s father, a surgeon, decides to operate on a militant and asked which side he is on, says he is on the side of zindagi (life). Ironically, he pays for it with his life proving that it’s almost impossible to stay above the fray when the divide is so bitter.
But even if he had not said that or the film had no lines about how inteqaam (revenge) only begets inteqaam and not azaadi, being one-sided is a weak argument for boycott.
That would have made Mani Ratnam’s Roja, where Pankaj Kapur played a terrorist leader in Kashmir, a perfect candidate for a boycott except it was one-sided and jingoistic from the other side. But the solution to a perception of one-sided is never a ban or even a boycott for that matter.
The solution is to tell more stories from more points of view. As an unnamed retired Army officer who served in Kashmir writes “More than the quality and the message of the movie, the fact that such a political movie can be made and released in this country is something we should be justifiably proud of. Let a thousand more Haiders bloom.”
If Haider is incendiary it’s not because it steps into the minefield of Kashmir’s insurgency and militancy. A film based on a play famous for the line “Something is rotten in the state of Denmark” cannot come out smelling like roses in Kashmir. Haider’s real daring is while the #BoycottHaider types are in a tizzy about the politics it sneaks into an area far more taboo (or should we say Tabu?) than militancy – suggesting an almost Oedipal closeness between Haider and his mother Ghazala. As the camera zooms in on Haider nuzzling Ghazala’s neck, it creates a genuine moment of real discomfort. Showing that requires, to paraphrase another line in the movie, more chutzpah than showing AFSPA.
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Updated Date: Oct 07, 2014 11:30:05 IST