Aditya Raj Kaul
First published here: Facebook
Later published here: Newslaundry
For the last few days, I’ve been stormed with messages from friends asking for my opinion on #Haider. I finally managed to watch the film last night. To be honest, I neither found the film extraordinary nor provocative. I did not feel emotionally overwhelmed either. Good cinematography undoubtedly by Vishal Bhardwaj. Fantastic music. Terrific acting by Irrfan Khan, Shahid Kapoor, Tabu, Kay Kay and the two Salman Khan fans. That’s about it. Haider is a political film which touches one aspect of the problem, not all. And that’s the reason not just Kashmiri Muslims and Pandits both (interestingly) call it one-sided, people across the country, even while appreciating its creativity have called it a biased film. I think the criticism is not alone for this film or the director or script-writer, this is collective anger against film-makers who spin a humanitarian story into a political needle, hence ignoring several crucial aspects of that story. Haider could have been looked at metaphorically through the protagonist, but under the garb of an adaptation of Shakespeare’s Hamlet, the film does speak against AFSPA subtly and gives out the story of half-widows quite bluntly. That’s where the narrative enters a zone of criticism and raises quite a few eyebrows. Indian Army is shown destroying a local house where terrorists are hiding, apart from the press conference where the reporter asks if the Army has the right to torture prisoners. That apart, a balancing act is done towards the end by thanking Indian Army for their efforts during Kashmir floods. Leaving the viewer confused. What’s the point, Mr. Director?
Few scenes in the film did make me emotional as a Kashmiri. Looking at the house burn, I was reminded of my own house devastated and gutted by locals in Kashmir, of course assisted by terrorists, the same year: 1995. This, after Doordarshan aired a documentary about my great-grandfather Master Samsar Chand Kaul (ornithologist, teacher at Biscoe School) and his great collection of books and artifacts in our ancestral home in Rainawari, Srinagar. Perhaps a Pandit house gutted isn’t as emotional and dramatic a story. Should I be grateful to Vishal Bhardwaj for mentioning Kashmiri Pandits twice during dialogues in the film, highest-ever in Bollywood since 1990? I wonder. The film does anger many who know how an ancient Martand Temple was converted into a dancing studio with a giant-size Satan depicted within its broken walls. Was permission denied for a similar shoot inside Jama Masjid or any of the mosques in the valley? Was there even an attempt made by the creative team? It does reflect in many ways the tolerance and intolerance of the Kashmir story. There is a striking scene where the maulvi is forced by the Army to announce over the mosque loudspeaker about an imminent crackdown, asking everyone to assemble on the streets for checking. The common man watching this is made to assume it was a barbaric act and a violation by all means. (I do not mean to defend the crackdown.) But they don’t know that during 1990s, mosques were used to warn Pandit men to leave Kashmir and leave behind Pandit women, and for chants of Nizam-e-Mustafa and love for Pakistan. Yasin Malik was the poster boy of these aazadiwallahs who crossed the border into Pakistan for arms training to eventually make the valley bleed. It continues to bleed even today. Looking at Basharat Peer stand outside his house motion and emotion less, I thought of thousands of Pandits who have stayed in exile in refugee camps of Jammu in sweltering heat. And those who returned after years to Kashmir only to see their homes gutted, looted or occupied by locals.