Bollywood’s [Re]presentation of ‘Kashmir’ And ‘Kashmiri’:
From Romance (Kashmir Ki Kali) To Tragedy (Haider)
Although coincidental, there seems a strong parallelism of the dynamics of changes between the writings of Shakespeare and socio-political discourses of Kashmir. Around four centuries ago, it seems as if Shakespeare knew how Kashmir, like his plays, would turn from an idealistic honeymoon destination to a tragic spot (from “most beautiful to most dangerous place on earth”). Many of us who are aware of the history of Kashmir know that pre-1989 Kashmir (as a geographical space) was primarily identified as pornotropic land, with lush green valleys, snow covered mountainous peaks, house boats, Dal Lake, fresh streams and springs. Apart from portraying Kashmir as a celebrated ‘beauty myth’, the world’s second largest Indian based film industry, Bollywood played a crucial role in [re]presenting it as a romantic geographical spot, dominated by its scenic landscape. Nevertheless, when it came to representing more than landscape of Kashmir, for example its inhabitants, pre-1989 ‘Kashmiri’, was either a houseboat owner, or a tourist guide, almost a neglected entity entirely engulfed by the landscape. The present work mainly focuses on Bollywood’s new controversial project “Haider” discussing Kashmir. Nevertheless, before criticising/analysing ‘Haider,’ perhaps an overview of the Bollywood’s historical account of Kashmir would facilitate to examine why it is different and significant from most of the post and pre-1989 accounts.
Pre-1989 Bollywood’s Romance with Kashmir:
Most of the pre-89 Bollywood movies ‘shot in Kashmir’ or ‘about Kashmir,’ hardly represent any constituent of Kashmiri identity–be it culture, dress, cuisine, music, or language. The diminutive representation of ‘Kashmiri’ was first time seen in Shakti Samanta’s (1964) film “Kashmir Ki Kali” which was followed by Suraj Prakash’s (1965) “Jab Jab Phool Khile” and Manmohan Krishna’s (1979) “Noorie”. It was Manmohan Desai’s (1974) “Roti”, Bollywood’s first experiment to replicate the Kashmiri traditional dress pheran [a long gown], and a headscarf [traditional Kashmiri head cover for women]. “Apart from being jingoistic, the filmmakers mixed the dress and culture of Kashmir with the neighboring federal state Himachal Pradesh which further distorted the essence of real Kashmiri characters”, notes Fokiya, of Manipal University.
Post Conflict Films:
As the focus of the writings of Shakespeare [which initially were ‘love and romance’ cantered] changed in his later writings [which were based on tragedy], likewise, the idea and imagination of Kashmir changed from [the pre-1989] a ‘romantic spot’ to [the post-1989] a ‘tragic hamlet’.’ The post-1989 narrative entirely changed the ‘image and representation’ of Kashmir, both for the Bollywood, common masses, media houses and potential tourists. After the conflict (post-1989), ‘Kashmiri’ was represented as either a militant/terrorist or a sympathiser of militants who conquered the picturesque view of mountain peaks. The inference was obvious,–Kashmir as a geographic spot is about peace, love, and romance, and Kashmir with its people explicates problem and violence. Bollywood’s such representation of Kashmir was backed by some biased print and electronic media houses, who were hell-bent on associating anything which sounds like Kashmir with ‘aatankwaad’ or terrorism. Therefore, post-89 Kashmir is a breathtaking landscape in which art and violence coalesce into one unforgettable experience. Political, ideological, religious and conflict discourses dominate the post-89 account of Kashmir depicted by Bollywood. The reverberation of soothing waters and falling of soft snow was replaced by gunshots and bomb blasts, and the peaceful flocks of sheep near the meadows were replaced by fearful armed men with lethal weapons. Violence and geopolitics, argues Rai, “have finally intervened within Kashmir’s cinematic performance and reception: with the emergence of Kashmiri separatism in 1989, the Valley now offers a theatre for a new ‘cinepatriotism’” (Amit Rai, 2003).
Mani Ratnam’s (1992) Tamil-language (dubbed in Hindi) political drama-romance film “Roja” was Bollywood’s first experiment representing post-89 Kashmir. Unlike Vishal Bhardwaj’s last adapted trilogy [Haider] based on ‘Hamlet’, (the other two include ‘Maqbool’ and ‘Omkara,’ adaptations of ‘Macbeth’ and ‘Othello’ respectively), Roja was the first in Ratnam’s trilogy of films that depicts human relationships against a background of politics, (the other two include Bombay and Dil Se). These were followed by Vidhu Vinod Chopra’s (2000) action thriller-drama “Mission Kashmir.” Although their illustration of violence is superficial and exploitative-a strategy [what Margaret Bruder calls] ‘violated cinematography to spectacularize the context.’ Such films brought acceptable outlets for anti-Kashmir impulses among the Indian masses. They were non-realistic sequence of fragmented narratives with exaggerated referential content, and such referential interpretations were without any ‘internal evidence’ from Kashmir. Such film narratives worked as propaganda to sell false information to those who cannot access reality. Bollywood, in fact, has emerged more as a source of encouragement than just a source of entertainment. Therefore, movies like ‘Mission Kashmir’ played a crucial role, in re-shaping the idea of post-89 Kashmir among the majority of Indian masses. Based on the assumptions of “Roja” and “Mission Kashmir,” many non-Kashmiris used to ask me, “Have you seen terrorists? How do they look? Do they kidnap and kill people?” Both the films had the same effect, what the Leni Riefenstahl’s most famous propaganda film [mistakenly considered a ‘factual film’] ‘Triumph of the Will’ (1935) had.
Ironically, very few among the Indian masses have some understanding of the politico-historical discourse of Kashmir, for the majority it constitutes what Ratnam, and Vidhu Vinod Chopra have filmed. Post-89 Kashmiri’s identity assertion changed from a houseboat owner and tourist guide to a [suspected] militant. It was followed by Shoojit Sircar’s (2005) war drama romance “Yahaan” and Kunal Kohli’s (2006) romantic crime drama, “Fanna”—the first Bollywood movie, where the protagonist sacrifices his life for a ‘cause’ rather than romance/love. It semiotically illustrated that Kashmir is perhaps more about a ‘cause’ than a ‘natural beauty spot’ and apart from its magnificence it inhabits people who have a bigger issue to resolve than just to romance with its snow covered mountains and lush green valleys. The movie [non-traditionally] deviates from the hyper-jingoistic nationalist Bollywood discourse, where in one of its scenes, a TV correspondent is shown reporting openly the bomb blast at Rashtrapati Bhawan, Delhi, says “IKF ki maang Kashmir ko azaad karna hai Hindustan aur Pakistan se” meaning ‘the demand of IFK (a militant group) is to get Kashmir free from India and Pakistan.’ The movie also courageously tried to underscore the politico-historical understanding of the Kashmir conflict—where in a discussion with high-level officers, Tyagi (Tabu) debates about the referendum of Kashmiris. “Kashmir ko 1947 mein referendum ka waada kiya gaya tha, jo abhi tak pura nahin kiya gaya hai” that ‘Kashmiris were promised right to referendum, but the promise has not been fulfilled yet’. Nevertheless, keeping the Bollywood’s traditional rhythm with nationalistic venture alive, it also propagated how the protagonist, a [Kashmiri] tourist guide becomes a militant and extends his boundaries from Kashmir to Delhi. Such representation of Kashmiris by Bolloywood might be a reason to persuade the people of India to think differently for Kashmiris, where many Indians used to hesitate to interact, entertain, or trust a Kashmiri [Muslim] who travels outside Kashmir, be it in buses, trains, or even to get a rented accommodation outside Kashmir.
Within the grand narrative of the ‘Kashmir conflict’, there are many sub-narratives, which remained suppressed for long time. However, in 2004, Ashok Pandit (a Kashmiri Pandit) highlighted one of the crucial (sub)narratives of the Kashmir conflict-the predicament of Kashmiri pandits. In his film “Sheen” he showed the journey of a Kashmiri Pandit from its idyllic home to a refugee camp. Similarly Rahul Dholakia’s (2010) “Lamhaa” apart from courageously presetting the account of Kashmir history, highlighted one of the crucial sub-narratives and out come of the conflict—the plight of ‘half-widows’ (the wives of disappeared men, who are not sure if they are alive or not). The film also dared to break the ice by depicting the (unwanted and unexpected) image of the armed forces in Kashmir and overtly held them responsible for [creating] half-widows by forced disappearances and the corruption levels in the Indian Army. Among one of its many intrepid scenes, it showed how the border is opened up to let militants sneak in for a cash payment. It also shows how the Indian government has failed to conduct a free and fair electoral process in Kashmir, where in one scene, a Delhi based politician says, “kursi uski hogi jisse Dilli chunegi,” which literally meant, “Delhi will choose the boss for Kashmir irrespective of who wins or loses in elections”. Rahul Dholakiya also broke the age-old catchphrase from “welcome to Kashmir, the most beautiful place in the world” to “welcome to Kashmir, the most dangerous place in the World.”
There is, probably, always something tragic and twisted in “the world’s most filmed story, Hamlet,” [after Cinderella] and Haider is the latest. To contextualise Hamlet after four centuries that, too, with complex Freudian concept (though kept subtle) is indeed a herculean task. As a strikingly revenge melodrama, Haider’s plot outline, according to many analysts is similar, though not same to that of Hamlet. Following the Revenge Tragedy genre, Bhardwaj’s attempt to depict staple emotions of Hamlet while keeping his focus firmly on Kashmir is praiseworthy. It would not be an exaggeration to consider Haider a remarkable adaptation of Hamlet, intertwined in a story that encompasses Kashmir, militants, politics, power, lust, love and the concept of chutzpah.
Haider, according to its director Vishal Bhardwaj, is the first film where we see Kashmir from the inside. The controversies it invited were mainly based on two issues. The first, it attempted to ‘feed’ the viewer with new [real] senses about Kashmir, which many viewers treat unusual and non-intersecting with their understanding vis-à-vis Kashmir. Moreover, the way Plato proposed to ban poets from his ideal republic because he feared that their aesthetic ability to construct attractive narratives about immoral behaviour would corrupt young minds. In the same manner, some self-styled hyper nationalists assume it might ‘corrupt’ the minds of many less-informed Indian masses, thereby exposing the ‘real’ picture of Kashmir and Kashmiris. The realist cinema, like naked art is always disturbing, and Haider being realistic is mainly because it engaged a well-informed insider, Basharat Peer, to frame its screenplay. Apart from the controversies, it is essential to understand what ‘Haider’ offers different from the Bollywood’s earlier discourses depicting Kashmir.
Moreover, there are two main types of audiences, who presumably have interpreted the entire narrative differently. One, the people (mostly non-Kashmiris), who know Kashmir and the conflict, through Bollywood movies and media houses. The other type includes those who are born in Kashmir and are not only the part of the entire conflict but also know/understand subject of Kashmir more thoroughly. For the first group of audiences, it is probably genuine to be reluctant to accept some naked realities filmed in the movie, simply because they have not experienced it, they have not heard about it, they cannot understand it, contextualises it and therefore cannot tolerate it. Their criticism to the film was subjective-ethnocentric than rational. I, as a viewer belong to the second group, and analyse the entire film narrative as a Kashmiri who was not only born and brought up in Kashmir but have experienced each part of the conflict, and can relate with each scene of ‘Haider’ not with anger or emotions but with haunting memories.
Haider’s famous monologue “‘Hum hain ki hum nahin” the direct adaptation of Michael Almeria’s ‘Hamlet 2000’ “To be or not to be” explains the Haider’s psychological conundrum at its best. Haider’s love equations for Gertrude (Taboo), Ophelia (Shraddha Kapoor) and King Hamlet (Narendra Jha) and hate equations with Claudius (Kay Kay Menon) are intricate and befuddling. The protagonist, a politically aware youth engages with the outside world as much as he battles the banes within. His conundrum as a hero who neither kills the villain nor dies in the end sustains until the last moment.
Assertion of Identity Expressions:
Although a revenge tragedy, nevertheless, Haider asserts and articulates many indigenous linguistic and non-linguistic identity symbols. Probably Bollywood’s first project on Kashmir, which starts with a cavernous Kashmiri expression ‘hata’ye mou’ji’ ‘oh mother!’ It is not a simple Kashmiri linguistic expression and assertion of identity, but an expression of pain, grief and suffering, whose usage frequency has increased more than any other word in Kashmiri language, at least from the last twenty-five years. Be it a Kashmiri woman, men, old, young, Hindu, Muslim, Sikh all have memories associated with this expression, which are not pleasant. It is followed by a background sound of ‘aazan’ in typical Kashmiri accent. One of my friends from South India visited Kashmir in 2006, once he heard ‘aazan’ from a local mosque; he asked me ‘is it in Kashmiri’? Such overt assertion of linguistic identity statements is prominent in many scenes of the film. For example, Tabu, as a teacher in a school employed typical Kashmiri accent. The consequences of this identity assertion entail many facetious and serious narratives. For instance, a friend of mine from Delhi once jokingly told me: ‘aap Kashmiri log na dil se Bharat bolte ho na zuban se bolte ho’ meaning, “You Kashmiris neither speak the word ‘Bharat’ by heart nor do you pronounce it correctly”. He was pointing to the aspirated sound [b] which the native Kashmiri speakers cannot pronounce properly; instead, native Kashmiri speakers pronounce it as Barat without aspirated bh. Therefore, from a linguistic-identity assertion, ‘Haider’ is different from the other older Bollywood narratives.
Apart from the articulation of linguistic identity statements, Haider also reflects many other distinct Kashmiri identity symbols like ‘baand-pather’- Kashmiri folk theatre, ‘wanwun’-traditional Kashmiri marriage songs, instruments like ‘tumbakhnaari’- typical Kashmiri instrument women use only, ‘ sarangi’ and ‘rabaab’- Kashmiri violin, ‘kehwa’–special traditional green tea, ‘pheran’- the traditional Kashmiri attire, ‘samavaar’- metal container traditionally used to boil and keep tea hot, ‘karakuli’- a triangular hat made from the fur of sheep, ‘rista’- a popular Kashmiri cuisine (meatballs in a fiery red gravy), ‘chai paiIla’- traditional Kashmiri cups for tea, and which no Bollywood movie has paid attention so far.
The film exposes a crucial aspect of harassment of common masses by the security agencies on the pretext of search operation- ‘crackdown,’ the ‘biggest tragedy’ that took place in the mid-1990s. During the peak of militancy, the early morning news from the adjacent towns used to be dominated by the crackdowns, cordons, encounters, bomb blasts, raids, cross-firing and ambushes between the military and armed militants. For the fear of being caught in a possible crackdown, many people used to sleep in open fields far away from their homes. To terrorize locals, in many such crackdowns, the men in uniform (Armed forces), will pick up a random person, torture him in front of the entire public of the area, the crowd will listen his cries helplessly and feel humiliated. I assume that in a generation that has lived through such traumatic events in the 1990s, the memories are potent—and sufficient to provoke the Kashmiri populace to violent incidents such as ‘stone-pelting’ against the Indian security forces at a moment’s notice. In this context, as I see it, the innumerable ‘stone-pelting’ events from 2008 and 2010, for instance, were not the sudden, ‘flash’ uprisings that they appeared to be but involved deep-rooted memories of the atrocities and terror of the 1990s.
Disappeared [Husbands] and Half-widows [Wives]:
Haider candidly reveals the theme of ‘disappeared’ there by uncovers the mystery of the term and portrays how it is rather an oxymoron to use the term ‘disappeared’ when it is obvious to everyone who took them away from their homes. For example, Haider’s father turns out to have been “disappeared”. It tries to make a note for the people who always claimed that the people who disappeared in Kashmir crossed the border and went to Pakistan for armed training, and for those who are still unaware that the wives of those disappeared people are called ‘half-widows’. Because these married women are always, in a state of uncertainty whether their husbands are alive or dead but only thing they are sure about their husbands is that they are ‘disappeared’.
Fearful Temporal Voyage: Colours of Freedom
‘Haider’ rightly demonstrates that among the various outcomes of the militancy in Kashmir, one was that to save the lives of their children, many parents, who, because of their socio-economic conditions, otherwise, could not have managed to send their children away from Kashmir, did so. This migration proved rewarding for many who not only saved their lives but also got an accidental opportunity to a good education. A distant relative of mine, who fled from his home to avoid any possible detention by the men in uniform, [after a militant had hidden a gun in his apple orchid, and was later impounded by army], returned with an MBBS degree from Russia. Unthinkable, but it happened!
Nevertheless, no matter wherever and for whatever reason we travel, most of us constantly carry consciously or unconsciously with us a post-conflict anxiety and our discussions are dominated by haunting memories of horror, which we have experienced in Kashmir. Many young Kashmiris still get anxious when they see men in army uniforms anywhere outside Kashmir. Even many Kashmiris residing outside Kashmir reported that they were reluctant to talk freely over the phone, specifically back home to Kashmir. Our dreams are still dominated by the conflict-ridden memories; I dream of crackdowns, identification parades, the army rushing to cordon our locality, cross-firing etc.
The film shows how a family friend suggests Haider’s family to send Haider outside the state so that he can see the ‘colours of India’ and understand how people live outside freely without any fear. In fact, we used to be surprised, as I remember it, how a bus driver in Delhi was not afraid or bothered to give side to an Army vehicle following the bus, an unusual and courageous act for us. Because not stopping bus and avoiding giving side to any vehicle of the armed forces in Kashmir was a death inviting act. For us, it was almost believing unbelievable. Nevertheless, later we realised that their power to terrorize the masses is limited to Kashmir, where they, enjoy freedom granted by New Delhi and treat themselves as deputy-kings!
Moreover, Haider went outside for studies (Aligarh Muslim University), however, his studies were again dominated by ‘freedom issues’ where he studied ‘Revolutionary Poets of British India.’ Many of us who went outside the state during the conflict years for studies, either our discussions or our studies were dominated with ‘Kashmir, problems, sufferings and memories.’
Like the protagonist Haider, once we used to return to Kashmir during holidays, we were supposed to answer many questions at every check post, and prove we were students and came from ABC state of India, not from Pakistan. Many of us like Haider had committed unconscious mistakes like calling Anantnag as Islamabad. This was no less than a kind of linguistic terrorism where they don’t let them speak what they want to [like islamaabad] but force corce them to articulate what they don’t wish to [like jai hind].
Similarly, Haider’s destroyed house, semi-burnt cricket bat symbolises how both the inner, and outer spaces for the Kashmiri youth were completely taken away, destroyed and squawked. Like Haider, they were not responsible for many acts they were punished for, and never deserved the ill-treatment they were gifted. The way Haider is being troubled for no fault of his, in the same pattern; I have witnessed many real life narratives where innocent people were tortured or even killed. For example, I cannot forget June 1995, when the unit of the 9th Rashtriya Rifles, then camped in the neighbouring village Seer, abducted our neighbour, who was an employee of the state irrigation department along with two other men. After five days of the abduction, in the ill-fated night of June 23, only a limb of our neighbour was found and the newspapers reported that he along with the other two abducted men were butchered, their heads and limbs were separated from their bodies. A wave of discontent, fear and hate engulfed the entire district. Following this brutal episode, for the entire younger generation of our area, the Indian Army is perceived through what they did to our neighbour along with the two others. Later, the son of this murdered neighbour, who is now considered as representing our village among the list of martyrs, was also once arrested and threatened by the local police on some lame excuse. After his release, he once told me: “my father was innocent, he was murdered; I am not being allowed to live peacefully, do you think that I have any other option than to pick up arms” which he luckily did not do, possibly because of his widowed mother and young sister. This is the story and fate of many fathers and sons of Kashmir. Similarly, another friend like the protagonist of the film is still waiting for his father (to see him at least, dead or alive), who used to run a medical store and about whom everybody knows that he was arrested during a nocturnal raid by the armed forces. Many young men were outcast and stigmatized, and still are, they won’t get passport or a government jobs. If anyone would still expect such youth to be loyal to the nation and constitution, then he/she has some severe cognitive deficiencies.
Role of the Locals:
They say there are lot of complexities working together in a conflict zone and that holds true for Kashmir. Haider’s triangular-conflict with his mother, uncle and Self and the scene about the creation of ‘ikhwanis’ can be fairly be extended to the Kashmir of 1990s. Some local people were killed for personal rivalries, land disputes, jobs etc. Many locals were used by the different agencies or they let themselves to get used for their immediate selfish gains. One evening a gunman with an assault rifle was a freedom fighter (fighting for ‘azadi, with Indian armed forces), was an ‘ikhwani’ (the counter insurgency group of surrendered militants, who later collaborated with the armed forces) the following morning. The Ikhwanis created a reign of terror throughout Kashmir and they became synonymous with terror. The government-backed group of gunmen apart from the selective killing of the hundreds of militant-sympathizers, relatives of militants, Jamaat-i-Islami activists and pro-Aazadi people, heedless of their social stature, indulged in ransacking, torture, forced labour, kidnapping and ransom. I have witnessed at least ten killings by this terror group. They were fully protected by the Army and the government, and used to roam around in broad daylight with loaded AK47 assault rifles. Apart from disturbing the ecology and environment by looting the forests of Kashmir, it is believed that they killed almost 655 basic members of Jamaat-i-Islami in southern Kashmir’s Islamabad and Kulgam districts alone. They not only ran a parallel government, but also worked as the police, the court, the executers, builders, collected hafta from traders, and ‘sold’ government land. Hundreds more fled the area, making a new class of migrants. The Ikhwanis were madly conceited which made people apprehensive. People are unable to forget the atrocities and the crimes committed by the government sponsored ikhwanis, and hold the Indian State and the army equally responsible for their crimes, because they know it all was intentionally planned, purposely organised, motivated and executed with the evident knowledge and the facilitation from the State, the Centre and the armed forces.
The common Kashmiris also didn’t behave less than ikhwanis-only difference was that the ikhwanis openly declared it, but common masses still think they are right and pious. Common people like Ikhwanis would one day come out in streets in thousands raising slogans in favour of aazadi and get killed in hundreds and the following morning will come out and cast their votes in favour of what they call ‘Hindustan Nawaz’ “Indian Sponsored” more than national average and justify the act conveniently. They assume that casting vote is a collective exercise and collective sins are always legitimate. Haider’s scene at Lal Chowk, Srinagar consolidates the Kashmiri character, where he raises slogans in favour of aazadi, and suddenly when he saw his uncle recites ‘Saare jahan se accha”. What fits for the common masses is:
tu idhar udhar ki na baat kar,
Ye bataa ki qaafila kyu luta.
Mujhe reh-zani ka gila nahi.
Teri rehbari ka sawaal hai.
Fake Encounters: Awards and Promotions
The police officer mercilessly murders three young boys and says to KK Menon, ‘mara hua militant be aajkal ek lakh ka hai’ means, “even a dead militant costs one Lakh’ and puts some assault rifles AK on their dead bodies, and orders to call the media.
Money, like everywhere matters in Kashmir too. Something remarkable, which never happened in any so called ‘conflict zones’ of the world, did happen in Kashmir, where the economic discourses dominated the conflict zone. In the early 1990s when everything seemed perplexed, and when lawlessness was at its peak, the only institution whose growth curve improved was the Jammu and Kashmir Bank. Assuming that India might withdraw from the Kashmir taking all our money with it, people withdrew all their money from other national banks and deposited it in the Jammu and Kashmir Bank. Moreover, apart from the growth of the Jammu and Kashmir Bank, a lot of construction work took place in Kashmir and thousands of posh-houses were built during these years of turmoil. Interestingly, on the other hand, Pakistan had effectively presented the base of the Kashmir problem purely as a religious discourse and framed it as jihad (holy war) thereby motivating many foreign militants to join the Kashmir Jihadi cadres. Several foreign militants, who had just arrived from Afghanistan, were astonished to see such a large-scale construction work going on in Kashmir. They were unable to understand the conundrum that if there is a warlike situation in Kashmir, as they had been told, why and how Kashmiris were constructing fancy houses. Smiling at a group of Kashmiri men, working at a construction site, a surprised Afghan militant uttered in pure Urdu lexicon “ye sub barbaad ho jaye ga, banake be koi faida nahee, Afghanistan ko nahee dekha, kuchh bhee nahee raha”: ‘this all will get destroyed, nothing will be gained by constructing it, didn’t you see what happened in Afghanistan, nothing remained.’ Ironically, even after such warfare circumstances, the state of Jammu and Kashmir holds the second position among the list of most corrupted states of India, which Haider has missed to note.
Haider shows how even the media houses are unaware about the real nature of the incidents but report what is being reported or briefed to them. Many people, who are largely uninformed about the real incidents in Kashmir, are still angry with Vishal Bhardwaj and co-screen play writer Basharat Peer accusing them for the cinema they assume would lower down the moral of the armed forces. Although, many such fake encounters were investigated by the prominent agencies, as CBI and many people were held guilty but the controversial ‘Armed Forces Special Powers Act’ (AFSPA) saved them. For instance, On March 25, 2000, at Pathribal, five kilometres away from my home, five men were picked up by the officers of the Indian Army’s Rashtriya Rifles in a conspiracy to display a quick breakthrough in the Chittisingh Pora massacre of March 20, in which 36 Sikhs were gunned down by ‘unidentified’ gunmen. The massacre took place at the time of US President Bill Clinton’s India visit. The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), and DNA analyses, suggest the five men – two farmers, two goatherds and a cloth merchant – were innocent and were executed, their bodies mauled and in one case decapitated, and then burned to eliminate all vestiges of their identity. However, recently [perhaps the impact of Haider] the Army held eight of its men responsible for the 2010 Machil fake encounter. The Times of India on 14th November 2014 reported, “the Army has sentenced two officers and three soldiers to life imprisonment for gunning down three unemployed Kashmiri youths and then trying to pass them off as “Pakistani militants” in a stage-managed encounter in Machil sector along the Line of Control in April 2010.”
There are many such incidents, some consolidated by the mass graves found in many places of Kashmir. Such incidents have played a crucial role in widening the gap between the Kashmir and New Delhi and have changed Kashmiris’ perception of the ‘Indian democracy’. People waited for justice; the guilty were saved; the wave of injustice has been treated as a routine affair by the Centre.
Land of Unfulfilled Promises:
In one of the scenes, the police officer says to Haider, “Kashmir is a land of unfulfilled promises. Which promise from Nehru’s promised plebiscite to demilitarisation was fulfilled?” In other words, he suggests Haider, that even though he is genuine, seeking for rights and justice, nevertheless there is hardly any hope, and further suggested him to compromise, collaborate, forget and live. The root cause of the uninvited sufferings of Kashmiris, according to the police officer is the Indo-Pak confrontation. “do haathi jab ladhte hai to ghass hee kuchali jati hai”, which literally translates ‘India and Pakistan are fighting and Kashmiris like grass are being unnecessarily ground in between’. He tries to convince Haider to forget asking about his disappeared father, which otherwise would invite danger. Unlike the police officer’s suggestion to forget ‘aazadi’ and unfulfilled promises, the film acknowledges that there are people who do not consider seeking aazadi a problem, but the stragety to seek it is the problem. Haider’s family friend tries to convince Haider by saying “Hindustan ki aazadi be laathiwala laya tha”, that ‘India’s freedom was also achieved by peaceful means by non-violent man Gandhi’. In other words, Haider infers that to seek freedom is not a problem but to use violence as a tool is unjustifiable.
Conflict Induced ‘ New’ Disease:
Apart from creating thousands of half-widows, orphans, and physically disabled, the conflict era has produced thousands of cardiac and psychiatric patients in Kashmir. The film brings out ‘a new disease’, where in one of its scenes it shows how a person standing outside his residence was unable to enter, unless he is frisked by someone. The violence in the region has taken a toll on residents, with many people suffering from mental health disorders as a result. On any given day, hundreds of people line up at the dilapidated Rainawari Psychiatric Hospital in Kashmir’s summer capital, Srinagar. One of the psychiatrist noted, “the prevailing situation over the last two decades is contributing to psychiatric disorders. In the early 90’s, we had about 2,000 patients visit us in our psychiatric diseases hospital. Currently we are having more than 100,000 visitors per year. The patients that we see are just the tip of the iceberg.” There are many with post-traumatic disorder and many suffer silently. Moreover, a recent research report indicated that due to the conflict, Kashmir is witnessing an alarming increase in childlessness and infertility among local women. Therefore, the emergence of ‘new disease’ is more than fiction and ‘Haider’ has rightly filmed it.
Rasul Mir meets Shakespeare:
One of the best literary parallels is that it makes Rasool Mir’s literary meeting with Shakespeare imaginably successful. Mir was one of the leading Kashmiri poets of the 19th century. Born at Dooru Shahabad, a historic town in Anantnag district Kashmir, he has been titled as Keats of Kashmir for his powerful romantic poetry. Haider has facilitated Shakespeare’s meeting (through Hamlet) with Rasool Mir’s through his song:
Boeti No Yeh Dooreur Chonuai Zarai,
Baal Maraayo .
Kya Karah Thovthum Zar Zarai
Rasool Mir’s lyrics absolutely fit to the context of Haider and post-89 Kashmir. This historical literary-meeting’s credit goes to “Haider”.
“Chutzpah” artistically adopted by Haider, is a Hebrew word meaning the quality of audacity for good or for bad, could be the title of the History of Kashmir. The most intriguing feature of the film according to ‘The Dawn’ is perhaps the scriptwriter’s fixation with the metaphor ‘chutzpah’ to entwine the ‘separatist militancy’ of 1995 in Kashmir and military excesses inflicted upon the masses through the AFSPA (Armed Forces Special Power Act). Pronounced incorrectly but deliberately to make it sound like a local cuss word’s the figure of speech somehow becomes the punch line of Haider’s conflict or the situation of Kashmir. Focusing this “chutzpah” through his lens, the director, inadvertently reveals not only the subtext of his own adapted plot but the ruthlessly capitalised tragedy of Kashmir by Bollywood directors, as well as the political actors of India and Pakistan.
The symbolism starts right from the title design- white and red, signifying blood on snow. Haider also attempted to demonstrate some symbols, which are highly contextualised, but hard for non-Kashmiris to conceptualize. Such symbols would even have been difficult for the director to interpret, had the Kashmiri writer not assisted him. For example, in one of its scenes, it shows a group of ‘Kashmiri eagles’. I recall during the 1990s, the eagles almost disappeared from the valley, and people used to speculate and gossip that ‘eagles have flown to border, to eat the human flesh, where many people got killed while crossing the border.’ Similarly, it shows graveyard with hundreds of graves and every grave has just been reduced to a number, which is unusual though. Many people put a gravestone with name engraved in it. The graves just indicated by numbers interpret that no one knows the identity of the buried, and therefore no one is able to assert the identity of the killed and the killer. Many associate such unidentified graves with ‘disappeared persons.’
Similarly, it shows “a ghost”- appearing and disappearing out of nowhere, and calls himself the ‘doctor’s ghost’. Because Haider’s father, the doctor had disappeared, and forcing Haider to assume he may appear or disappear somewhere.
In the last scene, it tries to present violence as a form of expressive art filming ‘the burning of snow,’ which symbolises unforeseen tragedy. Snow, in Kashmir has many axioms associated with it. For example, ‘kruhun sheen’ ‘black snow’ which infers impossible or oxymoron. Haider shows that Kashmir is a place where snow literally catches fire and burns. It perhaps symbolises that when enough blood has spilled on the blemishless snow, limbs are severed and flesh burned. It ends with graveyard, blood, guilt, death and regrets, perhaps the outcome of every tragic conflict.
Haider is hardly an allusion, but it is indeed an allegory in which the characters and developments symbolise real people and events of post-89 Kashmir. During the last 25 years, Kashmiri youth (like the protagonist Haider) have suffered as Segismundo-the character of Heiner Müller’s excellent drama “Hamletmachine”- who was imprisoned for the crime of having been born. The final questions remains here: Does Haider’s conundrum still prevail among the Kashmiri youth?
Intekam is the voice that drives the film forward, but the film ends with last hope words possibly looking for a hope by giving up revenge by closing words “Revenge only results in revenge.”
I conclude with a lighter note from Faiz Ahmed Faiz’s adopted verse in Haider:
Gulon mein rang bhare baad-e-naubahaar chale
Chale bhi aao ke gulshan ka karobaar chale
Let there be colours in the flowers, and the breeze of new spring would come.
Come, so that the daily business of garden can go on..
Tail Piece: The Globe Theatre of London initiated a project in 2014 to perform Hamlet in every country in the world in the space of two years. Titled ‘Globe to Globe Hamlet’, it began its tour on 23 April 2014, the 450th anniversary of Shakespeare’s birth. As of 21 June 2014, the project had performed in 21 different countries. October 2014, they have decided to drop India from the list of the countries, as they assume ‘Haider’ has covered India already and performed Hamlet at its best, culturally, contextually, and cinematographically.
Dr. M Ashraf Bhat has pursued his Post-doctorate (PDF) from the Department of Humanities and Social Sciences, Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Delhi, and doctorate (Ph.D.) from the Department of Humanities and Social Sciences, Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Kanpur. He has been associated with the Central Institute of Indian Languages Mysore (Ministry of HRD, Govt. of India), Department of Science and Technology (DST), Govt. of Indian, Indian Council of Social Science Research (ICSSR), and the Indian Institute of Advanced Study (IIAS) Shmila, at various capacities. He is a member of various international linguistic organizations including the Editorial Board Member of the American Journal of Linguistics, American Journal of Educational Research, Asian Journal of Humanities and Social Sciences, Third Front, member of the International Pragmatics Association (IPrA) Belgium. Previously he was teaching at the Department of English, Faculty of Humanities and Languages, Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi, at the Faculty of Humanities and Languages, Galgotias University, Greater Noida, and at the Northern Regional Language Centre, Patiala (Central Institute of Indian Languages) Ministry of HRD, Department of Higher Education, Government of India. He is a member of several international organizations and has presented/published many research papers at various national and international platforms. Apart from academic papers, he has published several articles on Kashmir.
Acknowledgements: I would like to thank my friend Nivida Chandra, (Researcher at IIT Delhi) for her editorial inputs.
The article has been published with the permission of the author. It appeared here first on 8 May 2015.