In defense of Haider

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’.


It tells only one aspect of the Kashmir problem

First things first, Haider is NOT a documentary on Kashmir & its problems. It is a film on Shakespeare’s Hamlet and that’s about it! Yes, the backdrop is Kashmir. Now, there are several narratives to the story of Kashmir. There is a Kashmiri Pandit perspective, another is a Kashmiri Muslim one and last but not the least the army perspective. However, what is common in all the three is the suffering, pain and loss. Haider chooses to tell one of them.  So, what is the problem in that?

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.

It is anti-India and anti-Indian Army.

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 there were no detention centers 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 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 – electric shocks to their genitals, being thrashed naked with bamboo sticks, their nails being 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 is the one involving gravediggers. The song ‘Aao Na’ playing in the background matches the tempo set by gravedigger’s shovel sends shivers down the spine. 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 and till date it’s a blot on India. According to the Human Rights Report 2,900 unmarked bodies were found and unlike the claims by Army; not all were militants.

Barkha Dutt did an excellent story on the ‘half-widows’ of the valley. Many of the Kashmir’s missing people are believed to have been killed in custody. Official estimates put the number at more than a thousand. Unofficial estimates say the number could be three times higher! Watch it here Half Widows

It ignores the plight of Kashmiri Pandits

Hell No! The exodus was unfortunate and it’s a shame that Indians are living like refugees in their own country. But, the exodus of Kashmiri Pandits happened way 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. Moreover, even if Vishal has ignored it as some are saying, then it is HIS CHOICE! Why not make a film and counter Haider.

Haider is one of the finest films to have come out this year. It is also one of the most political film to be made with Kashmir as its backdrop. Beyond the beauty of Dal Lake, Chinar & Gulmarg; there is more to Kashmir and Haider shows you that. It is disturbing but a must watch; if not for the politics, then for the brilliant cinema!