Voices Wednesday, October 22, 2014 - 05:30
Rahul Sharma  There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so” — Hamlet, Act II, Scene II Vishal Bhardwaj’s Haider has been in news for more than one reason. On one hand people (like me) are talking about the brilliance of the film, the excellent screenplay, the soothing music and the powerful performances. But, on the other hand there are voices of dissent calling for a ‘Boycott’ of Haider claiming the film is anti India and disrespects the army.  With my leanings towards the right and being a staunch supporter of the Indian Army I expected to be offended when I entered the movie hall but surprisingly I wasn’t. On the contrary I loved it. However, I was not very convinced of the criticism thrown at Haider; so I decided to pen my thoughts on the film. I am neither a film critic nor an expert on Kashmir; but I love films. So, let’s call this a piece in defense of the ‘film’. There are several narratives to India’s K-problem. There is a Kashmiri Pandit perspective, another is a Kashmiri Muslim one and last but not the least the army perspective. However, what remain common in all the three are the suffering, pain and loss. Haider chooses to use one of these narratives as the backdrop. So, what exactly is the problem in that? Haider is NOT a documentary on Kashmir & its problems and nowhere does the director claims so. It is a film on Shakespeare’s Hamlet and that’s about it!  Director Onir’s 2011 film ‘I am’ had a short story on Kashmir where a Kashmiri Pandit (Juhi Chawla) returns to the valley to sell her ancestral home. Though the film never made any sweeping political statement but it did put the story of Kashmiri Pandits on-screen. The character was loosely inspired from actor Sanjay Suri’s mother who lost her husband in the insurgency of 1990. Similarly, Ashoke Pandits’ 2004 film ‘Sheen’ was based on a Kashmiri Pandit family and their exodus. Interestingly, no body accused Onir and Ashoke Pandit of putting their ‘agenda’ on screen and ignoring the plight of civilians and telling a one-sided story. I doubt if most even know about these films. Coming to the anti-India and anti-Army rhetoric which is thrown against Haider; now we all would be stupid to believe that our Kashmiri brothers love India and take as much pride in saying ‘Jai Hind’ as we do. Also, we would be naive if we deny the fact that Army crackdowns and interrogations never happened (Happens?) or that detention centres never existed in the valley or that there are no half-widows. The infamous ‘Papa II’ (Mama II in the film) detention centre was our very own Guantanamo Bay. I read about it few years back in Basharat Peer’s book Curfewed Night and it made the ‘Indian’ in me uncomfortable. Of course these centres were supposed to detain ‘militants’ but on more than one occasion they detained suspected militants (read civilians) and they were subjected to third degree torture. Those who did not die or mysteriously ‘disappeared’ and were lucky to come out alive have narrated harrowing tales - their genitals were exposed to electric shock, they were thrashed naked with bamboo sticks, their nails were pulled out and much more. Today, Papa II is the official residence of Mufti Muhammad Sayeed and his daughter Mehbooba Mufti of PDP, another detention centre ‘Cargo’ serves as a cyber police station while ‘Harinawas’ is converted to a guesthouse. One of the most powerful scenes in the film was the one involving gravediggers. As a matter of fact, the ‘real’ is not very different from ‘reel’. Mass graves of disappeared people were found in the valley years ago. According to the International People’s Tribunal on Human Rights and Justice, a Human Rights Report (One may accept or reject) 2,900 unmarked bodies were found and unlike the claims made; not all were militants. In the film, Ghazala (Tabu) states that she is ‘Aadhi-Bewa’. For many it would be a new term added to their vocabulary but in Kashmir these half-widows are a sad reality. These are women whose husbands were taken away by the forces for interrogation but never returned – disappeared but not yet deceased. One of the human rights group, Jammu and Kashmir Coalition of Civil Societies puts their number at 1500. Last but not the least; many have accused the director for ‘ignoring’ the plight of Kashmiri Pandits in the valley. The exodus of Pandits was unfortunate and it’s a shame that Indians are living like refugees in their own country. The loudspeakers which announced crackdowns in the film were once used to shout slogans exhorting the Kashmiri Muslims to embark Jihad. But, the exodus of Kashmiri Pandits happened back in 1989-90 whereas the film is set in 1995. How can they be a part of a film which is set in a different time period? Just because the film doesn’t talk about one issue; doesn’t mean that the makers approve of the killings of Pandits or that the director is putting the separatist ‘agenda’ on screen. Moreover, even if Vishal Bhardwaj has ignored a lot of things as some are saying then it is HIS CHOICE! Why not make a film that shows the other narrative and counter it? Haider is probably one of the bravest and most political films on Kashmir. Yes, it is co-written by Basharat Peer who is infamous for being a critic of the Indian state and army but that doesn’t take away the ‘fact’ that mass graves did appear in the valley, Papa II detention centre did torture civilians and half-widows are indeed a reality. We may not like it but it is true. Of course, ‘excesses’ do happen in any war but why don’t we acknowledge it?
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