Vishal bhardwaj excels at painting dark, sinister pictures that weave a psychological mish mash around you, a slow but potent hypnosis that tweaks perceptions of reality. And in ‘Haider’, the objective is to seduce you to believe that nazi-esque Indian Army is the monster depriving kashmiri muslims of aazadi. Militancy is glorified as the last resort of the virtuous who only, very innocently want to put to rest the spirits of the disappeared. Adultery is used as a tool to scoff at scheming, pro India politicians. A very gripping yet very dangerous cinema that couldn’t have been more anti-India.
Some excerpts from former J&K governor Jagmohan’s book “My frozen turbulence in Kashmir” to start with !
‘In 1995, 2768 persons were killed. The Security forces were attacked 2570 times, that is, on an average about seven times a day. The number of security personnel killed increased from 198 in 1994 to 234 in 1995. 211 more civilians were killed in 1995 than in 1994.’
‘January 26- Two Bombs exploded near the saluting base and one at the entrance of the Stadium. Eight persons, including a ‘black cat commando’, two Army Jawans , two police constables and two officials of the State Information Department, were killed. 54 others injured. The Governor himself had a providential escape.’
‘February 6 – An Army vehicle carrying Army Jawans from Jammu Cantonment was blown near Jorian, by a powerful mine. Nine Army men lost their lives. In another similar landmine blast near Khumriyal in Kupwara district, six Army Jawans and a civilian were killed’. ‘May 13-1995- In Bharat Village of Doda, eight Hindus were shot dead and about half a dozen seriously injured by terrorists. Doda had virtually become a domain of Pro Pakistan militants and foreign mercenaries’.
Other than these incidents which have more or less been forgotten now, but chronicled painstakingly by Jagmohan in his book, 1995 stands out for two incidents that marked the peak of Islamist jihad in Kashmir.
In March 1995, a fierce encounter between security forces and Mast Gul, Pakistani commander of a dreaded jihadi outfit broke out in the Char-e-Sharif shrine. Mast Gul and many foreign mercenaries like him had laid siege to the shrine. After days of a stand off, the entire village, including the shrine, was burnt and Mast Gul managed to escape. According to Pakistani newspapers, Mast Gul managed to cross the LoC (Line of Control) and was accorded a hero’s welcome in Pakistan.
Another defining moment of the Kashmir jihad happened in July 1995 when a lesser known outfit known as Al Faran kidnapped six western tourists in Anantnag district. Six victims, including two British tourists, two Americans, a German and a Norwegian were abducted. One American tourist managed to escape, but the Norwegian tourist was beheaded and the words Al Faran were carved on to his chest. The other four are now presumed to be dead.
None of these above mentioned incidents found even a fleeting reference in Vishal Bhardwaj’s much talked about recent release Haider. We are told that Haider is set in 1995 Kashmir, but clearly, Bhardwaj is not interested in all aspects of the history and politics of Kashmir. He is only interested in the adaptation of Hamlet in an Indian setting and Kashmir provides a fantastic backdrop, as would have any other region, like Pakistan, Afghanistan, Syria or Iraq, that has been torn by strife. The story of love, betrayal, deceit and revenge could have worked anywhere. In India however, no other conflict grabs international headlines like Kashmir does.
Next, Bhardwaj juxtaposes Curfewed Nights written by Bashrat Peer with Hamlet and produces a potpourri that works at the cinematic level but has nothing to do with the real story of Kashmir. In Bhardwaj’s world view, Kashmir is incidental and the tale of deceit and revenge takes precedence. Basharat Peer who is also the script writer of the film provides the political slant which exists in his book and his writings about Kashmir. Together, the Bhardwaj-Peer combo provides you with a strange mix that looks like Kashmir, but at the same time seems so removed from it.
Shakespeare’s Hamlet is considered an unlikely hero because he is indecisive and just can’t make up his mind about anything. His five soliloquies in the play confirm that Hamlet is forever questioning and contemplating. However, while adapting Hamlet; Bhardwaj seems to have had no doubts. There are no grey areas for him. The Indian State is the evil. The Indian Army is the occupational force and all terrorists are innocent folk who would rather quote Faiz than kill or plot against India. Not for Bhardwaj are many fascinating stories of rescue and bravery by the forces. Not for Bhardwaj are the gut-wrenching stories of soldiers from Chennai, to Manipur to Haryana serving in Kashmir, where every square inch of land is hostile. Not for Bhardwaj is the story of Kashmir which is the most subsidized state of the Indian Union and which enjoys the special status that no other state does. Bhardwaj also does not seem to be interested in providing any backdrop to the armed insurgency in Kashmir. It seems to have escaped him that Kashmir was never annexed by India and therefore the Indian Army is not an occupational force nor does he seem to have understood the civilizational connect India has with Kashmir which happens to be as old as the history of Indian civilization. Bhardawaj hasn’t made a film about Kashmir. Bhardawaj has simply made an adaptation of Hamlet set in Kashmir. That is why historical accuracy is of no consequence to him, nor the incidents that happened in the year that he has set his fictional story in. Haider is about the indulgence of its director and uni-dimensional world view of its script writer.
In 1995, most Hindus had been thrown out of the Kashmir valley by Islamists. I suppose that is why there is no reference to them in the film. Bhardwaj’s Kashmir is a place where only Muslims live; only mosques exist, only women with covered heads roam around. Bhardwaj’s camera never stops even for a fraction of a second at the burnt house of a Kashmiri Pandit or a dilapidated temple where not too long ago the sound of conches reverberated the air. Since this movie is not about the real Kashmir, Pandits too don’t find a place in Bhardwaj’s canvas. It does hurt that any filmmaker can conceive a film about Kashmir without any reference to Kashmiri Pandits (a fleeting 15-second reference by an Army Officer does not count) but that is the reality. While azaadi remains a distant dream and will never happen, Kashmir exists as an Islamic state where minorities have been driven out.
When the film ended and I read an odd line of gratitude to Indian soldiers for helping during the recent floods, I could hold it no longer and wept copious tears at what I thought was an attempt to add insult to the injury. In the movie, the Indian army is the villain, it has no humane face, no valiant stories that the director could think of incorporating. But in the end credits, he thinks about thanking the Army as an afterthought, for helping during floods. That is when I could no longer control my tears at the hypocrisy of it all and lopsided political world view of Vishal Bhardawaj and Basharat Peer.