Haider: Reflections from the ‘other’ side

Haider: Reflections from the ‘other’ side

  • Written by  Tanqeed Bhopali
  • Thursday, 30 October 2014 18:58
The posters of the recent Bollywood production, Haider, promote that the film is based on William Shakespeare’s play Hamlet. But in reality the film presents a story of Kashmir from a side which had never been depicted, or better to say, never been allowed to do so, in the mainstream Indian cinemas.

In the past, whenever an independent film-maker has tried to show his/her documentary or film with a similarly critical tone, the premieres were disrupted by the so-called ‘saviours of the nation’. In the case of Sanjay Kak, for instance, screening of his film Jashn-e-Azadi was cancelled on many occasions. In other cases, the director was physically assaulted while filthy abuses were hurled at him/her by the promoters of cultural nationalism. Haider had managed to pass all these hurdles, though it was passed by the Indian censor board after 41 cuts, and was given a U/A certificate (Unrestricted Public Exhibition-But With Parental Restriction). Due to these cuts in a few places the director has just managed to control things from running out of his grip. The newly turned script writer Basharat Peer has done a fine work by presenting a synopsis of his book The Curfew Nights on silver screens across the world.

Foregrounding AFSPA:

Many reviewers have a problem with the film because they found it one-sided. They have a point. But they never write similar things about the films celebrating only Indian nationalism in the Kashmir valley. Vaguely, this film tries to answer a few such questions as why Kashmiris support any other cricket team playing against India? Or, what are the reasons for growing alienation among the youth from Kashmir?

This film foregrounds a draconian law called the Armed Forces Special Power(s) Act (AFSPA) which was applied for the first time in 1958 in Nagaland; afterwards it has been imposed in India’s peripheral areas to meet the challenges of insurgency and militancy. Under the legal shield of the AFSPA, all sorts of brutalities ranging from murders to rapes etc have been committed by the members of the Armed Forces. The atrocities committed under the protective shield of the AFSPA are so severe that not only civil rights groups but also judicial commissions like the Justice Reddy Committee in 2005, and the Justice Verma commission in 2013, set up by the government of India, recommended against its continuation, especially in its current form.

One criticism of this film is: it is being too soft on terrorists. This feeling has become ingrained because in the past all films based on Kashmir or on the issue of nationalism have blamed Pakistan and militants for all the problems in Kashmir while the members of security forces have been portrayed as heroes sacrificing their lives for the nation. The common people in India, including many critics, do not want to come out from that construction. Any challenge to this settled construction is considered as anti-national activity or being soft on terrorists.

Co-incidentally, just after the film was released devastating floods occurred on both sides of Kashmir. The flood was used by the Indian media and social media to glamorize the Indian forces as heroes who were projected as the savior of the lives of people during the deluge while the separatists were criticized as back-stabbers or traitors. The fact was that the separatists and many other groups were also carrying out relief work at their own levels. [About the promotion of nationalism in the time of floods Sameer Arshad, copy editor of the Times of India, has written a brilliant piece in the newspaper’s blog.]

Grim realities:

There are a few scenes in Haider that depict the grim realities of the Valley. In one scene after the cold blooded killing of three innocents the police officer says “aaj kal mara hua terrorist bhi lakh ka hain” (these days even a killed terrorist fetch you rupees hundred thousand). In the Valley, many fake encounters have been carried out by the security forces to get medals or promotions. In the past, many such incidents have been reported in the media. Of course no action has been taken against those who committed the crimes. In another scene in which Basharat himself appears, the guy was not even going inside his own house. To which Rohdar played by Irfan Khan says “hume talashi ki itni aadat pad gayi hain ki aapne ghar mein bhi bina talashi diye nahi ghuste” (we have become so much  accustomed to frisk and search that we do not even enter our homes without someone clearing us). This is also a reality about which any Kashmiri can inform you. There are a few other scenes which show the physical and psychological torture committed by the security personals.

Given the mindset of Indians about Kashmir, Haider is not going to do enough to sensitize either the issue of AFSPA or other grim realities. The reasons: emergence of right-wing groups, increasing faith in vulgar capitalism which promotes ‘nationalism’ and militarism, and shrinking space for expression of dissent. Yet all is not lost. Haider offers hope that all have ot submitted before the dictatorship of manufactured consent on Kashmir.  

Published in vp225
From Viewpoint Online