Haider has been in the spotlight much for the wrong reasons than good. The film has been called “anti-national” and a social media campaign #BoycottHaider has erupted with extraordinary participation.
I was eager to watch this movie as soon as the initial trailers came out. After all, we do not get to watch too many sensible Bollywood films in a year. Soon, controversies encircled the film. To quote from Django Unchained, “it had my curiosity, but now it had my attention”.
I just got a chance to watch the much-awaited Haider and I was amused by the film’s reception. I was wondering – why has the film been deemed as anti-national? Yes, it was set in a turbulent Kashmir of 1990s, when militancy was at its peak and the army’s presence was supreme in the region. But I didn’t come across a single moment where the film took a propagandist turn and “glorified” militants and demonised the Indian Army.
I fail to understand why most of us have taken such a sentimental stand in favour of the army. If the people think that the army personals are perfect, I feel sad to tell them that they are wrong. Army officers, like us, are also human. Believing that the Indian Army is sacrosanct, and rejecting any idea of the atrocities that happen during a war or an insurgency is irrational.
Do people really believe that Army did nothing wrong in Kashmir? That only militants were captured and tortured? That there were no instances of disappearances and the issue of half widows is a ruse? Well, it has happened in Kashmir. I don’t wish to take a political stand here. Rather I want to make an attempt to tell people that the Indian Army wasn’t (and isn’t) perfect. The sooner they realise this, the easier it will be for the “nationalists” to absorb the film’s perspective.
Haider – an adaptation of Shakespeare’s Hamlet, is a drama (fiction) positioned in Kashmir. The film has merely reflected the plight of the people in Kashmir in those times. The troubles they face in leading a normal life. The agony of the people and the fact that they have no say in what they want is a balanced argument. “Koi to humse puche ki hum kya chahte hain” (Only if someone asked us what is it that we want).
The film neither blames the Indian Army for this situation nor does it support the militants. Armed Forces Special Powers Act’s (AFSPA) clauses are intelligently put in the film – but they are directed at reflecting the plight and insecurity of the people. The draconian law did have its relevance then, and I do not question the army’s presence in Kashmir during those times – it was a necessary evil.
Watching the film with an open mind, makes you understand how the common man (herein Haider) is stranded confused in the whole charade. His vulnerability is exploited by both the sides – the militants and the Indian state. The protagonist, Haider, ends up wondering, “Hum hai ki hum nahi” (do we exist or do we not).
The essence of the story is not a straightforward political stand against the army or militants. It is just a perspective of the plight of Kashmir. But the message is not directed towards pro-militancy, anti-India or anti-army. Rather it lies in the closing dialogue, “Inteqam sirf inteqam paida karta hai. Jab tak hum inteqam se aazad nahi hote, koi azadi hamein azad nahi kar sakti” (Revenge only gives birth to revenge. Till the time we don’t set our minds free from the idea of revenge, no freedom can free us.)
The India where we live in is so much different from the India they do. As said by Narendra Jha (Dr. Hilal Meer, Haider’s father) when he persuades him to study in Aligarh, “doosra Hindustan bhi dekh le” (Go, see a different India as well). Speaking for myself, I cannot imagine living in such a scenario, the way Kashmiris did in the 1990s, and continue to do so even today to an extent. We have known one side of the story. It wouldn’t hurt to know the other side of the story. The censor board didn’t have too much of an issue with the film, the army has received it amazingly well. An open letter from an army officer feels that a thousand more Haider(s) must bloom and welcomes the film whole heartedly.
It is uncharacteristic of mainstream Hindi cinema to give space to grave issues. Vishal Bharadwaj’s Haider is a welcome shift from the tradition. As a filmmaker, it is his prerogative what he wants to show. It is not the only story of Kashmir, but it is one. Hopefully, mainstream cinema takes up the mantle of showing alternate views and we witness another film, showing the perspective of Kashmiri pundits.
If the Army can be realistic and accepting, why cannot we, the people. Nobody is asking the film to take it on face value. As rational human beings, we need to know both the sides, before passing any judgements.
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