The previous part of this series covers the actual movie review >> Haider 2: The Movie
As I discuss about various controversies & criticism that Haider has received, I can’t think of anything more appropriate than this tweet-pic that my namesake @rmanish1 has posted -
I will go through some common objections & issues about Haider first, followed by my personal opinions and conclusion about this series of articles based on Haider.
- Haider portrays Indian army negatively - Quite a few points here. To start with, though I agree that Indian army has been doing a wonderful job on various fronts including their help in recent floods in Kashmir (Haider acknowledges this in the end); there are also many cases of atrocities by armed forces in various areas. AFSPA has been misused in many ways in many states. You might be aware of Sharmila Irom‘s prolonged ‘Hunger Strike’ and relentless fight to repeal of the AFSPA. Please read the whole case of Sharmila Irom to get the real picture. The army officer’s article that I quoted here earlier itself mentions this -
On AFSPA, even if we concede that the law was needed at the peak of militancy in Kashmir in the 1990s, there is no reason for it to still be applied to urban areas of Kashmir at the current levels of violence. Chief Minister Omar Abdullah has cogently made the case but to little avail. Let’s hope the new, unfearing government at the Centre will have the courage to take that bold step and send a message to Kashmir which its predecessor governments failed to do.
We have seen lot of atrocities by corrupt police officers in Bollywood films for ages, and though I agree that defence forces are far more respectable and less corrupt; let’s be honest and accept that bad people exist everywhere, and defence is no exception. Power abuse is not so uncommon by people who hold certain authority and AFSPA indeed gives unlimited power to armed forces.
More importantly, Haider doesn’t really show Indian army in the bad light as such. They are mostly shown as professionals with strategies that their think-tank thought effective at that time. The bad cops are from JK police (Aarshi’s father) and then there are Ikhwaan, Ikhwaan-ul-Muslimoon – the army’s creation of counterinsurgent group. Again, read this from the same army officer’s article -
Everything the movie says about Ikhwaan is perhaps true. The group was supported by the Indian Army and operated alongside it. It countered terror with terror of its own against Pakistan-backed terrorists and their over ground supporters. Ikhwaanis illegally felled timber and sold it (Koka Parray acknowledged that in an interview to Harinder Baweja of India Today in 1995), extorted money from shopkeepers, street vendors and even bus-passengers at checkpoints it established. It also probably did things much worse than that. After all, these Ikhwaanis had been trained in Pakistan, had operated as terrorists and knew how to fleece the Kashmiris for personal benefits.
I sincerely request you to read this complete article carefully. Here is someone who has served Indian Army from 1994 to 1997 and he says this is how he concludes his article -
Haider is a movie we should welcome whole-heartedly. More than the quality and the message of the movie, the fact that such a political movie can be made and released in this country is something we should be justifiably proud of. Let a thousand more Haiders bloom.
- Kashmir’s Representation/Depiction – Ahhhh! That’s really a tough one….This cinema shows Kashmir that we have not seen so far in Bollywood movies. And if our perception of Kashmir is based on past films like Kashmir Ki Kali to Mission Kashmir and likes (‘I am’ by Onir is a respectable exception – it has one really nice story set in Kashmir acted by Juhi Chawla & Manisha Koirala), then it is already skewed and far from reality. But does that mean that Haider represents the complete truth (if one such thing exists!) about Kashmir’s situation during that period around 1995-96? The answer is obviously a resounding NO – absolutely not! This is just one reality based story & perception as narrated by VB and Basharat Peer adapted from Curfewed Night and Shakespeare’s Hamlet. And as mentioned before, the story deviates from political scene in Kashmir and becomes more of Haider’s personal story of betrayal and revenge.It would be extremely naive or misleading to assume that this movie tells you the ‘complete truth’ about Kashmir. It is simply *not* possible. But we need to have many such real stories from Kashmir. They all might be different and present their own perspectives based on what they have experienced in their ambit of experience there. To see even the tip of the iceberg of the real issues and truths of Kashmir, we’d need lot more films (there are quite a few books available though) showing different truths and perspectives. Let there be films about Kashmiri Pandits and their sufferings, let their be films about Muslims and their suffering and let there be films about defence/army people and all the difficulties they are facing there. The more perspectives we have, better chance we have of getting closer to the real issues and truth.We have several films based on partition that we had in 1947, right from M. S. Sathyu’s ‘Garm Hawa’, Pamela Rooks’ ‘Train to Pakistan’ (based on Khushwant Singhs novel by the same name) to Chandra Prakash Dwivedi’s ‘Pinjar’ (based on Amrita Pritam’s novel by same name) and many others (let’s spare Gadar, not worth considering here) and each had dealt with different aspects of partition. It is a deep wound that we all share and many authors and film-makers share their views on this through their writings or film makings. In case of Haider, this is the view shared by VB & Basharat Peer, it is not complete – but that’s the story they have chosen to narrate in Haider and it is based on real incidents as well. Let’s give them freedom to do that. One may criticize their film and all its flaws, but it shouldn’t be boycotted only because some jingoistic people believe that it shows army in negative light and depicts Kashmir in a way that they don’t like. That’s ridiculous! For once I am happy with Indian censor and political parties for allowing it to be released despite 41 cuts. It still makes a strong political statement and demonstrate at least a slice of real Kashmir life in those difficult times.
- What Haider lost in 41 cuts – I found this article by chance and it is a detailed description of what all was eliminated before Haider was passed by the censor board. I am not too disappointed to see some extremely disturbing torture scenes getting cut, and many of them are voluntarily deleted. I am glad that censor board has taken care to protect the soul of the film. This is quite a heartening news for me and this is the level of freedom of expression we’d like to see in our India.
- VB films are not really ‘great’ – This one is quite funny. I have heard really strange arguments about it. This article on Mint by Sandipan Deb says:
Bhardwaj can make us think but he can’t make us feel. We are dazzled by his imagination as he transposes Hamlet on Kashmir and makes Shakespeare’s drama totally indigenous; we are impressed by his mastery over his craft—from cinematography to editing to his attention to every detail in recreating the milieu to the tight control he maintains over the pace of his film. But at the end, we empathize with none of the characters, even as they brood, weep, grieve, scream, lose their sanity.
I beg to differ. I can definitely connect to Haider, and did empathize with his pain, suffering and anger as well. Ditto for Kareena Kapoor in Omkara.
Then there are those who compare VB with Anurag Kashyap (AK) or others (Dibakar Banerjee) and say that he is not as great as they are. I find this comparison quite irrelevant. Especially talking about AK & VB – they are essentially different. They come from different backgrounds, different life experiences and have different styles. They have different personalities (read their bio) and their work reflect who they are. It is their expression after all.
They are both distinctive and have their own unique style and have given some memorable milestones in the Indian film industry. AK films are radical and hard-hitting. VB is contemplative, sensitive and creative/innovative with richer gamut of human emotions and relationships. We already have so many copycats in Bollywood – these two guys are unique and do their own thing quite well. Do we really need to put them in some silly rating against each other? Let’s cherish each one of them as a member of rare breed of sensible film-makers in Bollywood.
Anyway! I admire Vishal Bharadwaj (and AK as well) and I liked many of his films (not all), but I have no claim that he is the best film-maker and nor do I have any inclination to convert others to VB fan club.
Back to my personal opinions about Haider. I won’t comment if it is a great movie or not, but I insist that it is an important movie among current films. It’s the beginning of taking a firm political stand in the film, and not necessarily adhering to political correctness. It is a courageous film with lot of complex characters and far more convoluted plot painted on a huge canvas with controversial backdrop. It’s a gutsy film in terms of contents, inter-personal relations and unconventional, disturbing end. I really appreciate VB for conceiving it, perusing Basharat Peer to come up with a story that blends his book and Hamlet and finally for directing and producing this.
I am not a professional film critic, but I have always been passionate about cinema and this is the largest post I have ever posted on my blog about any film. I watched Haider 3 days ago and it did disturb me immensely to impel me to find out more about Haider, people’s views – both supporting it or opposing it on their blogs, twitter and so on. Moreover, it got me deep into Hamlet characters, plot and most importantly first hand accounts/stories of Kashmiri authors writing about Kashmir. I am trying to procure Curfewed Night by Basharat Peer and The Garden of Solitude by Siddhartha Gigoo who might provide a different perspective as his book talks about a Kashmiri Pandit family driven away from the Valley in the wake of armed insurgency and political turmoil. I want to explore more about it from first hand information, which may not necessarily corroborate with the information our national media has been feeding us for years.
I am thankful to Haider for making me disturbed in a good way and impelling me to figure out more. I don’t really need any other excuse to watch it again in the cinema hall and it will remain one of the important films in my collection when it becomes available on DVD.
References & Further Reading -
I have already given lot of links in the series of articles on Haider here, but would like to list few sources that I found in the last few days and have been very useful in shaping up this series.
- Basharat Peer’s interview – Read more about the author of Curfewed Night and contributor to writing & screenplay for this movie. It helps to see where is he coming from. You can read his complete interview here: http://www.hindustantimes.com/lifestyle/books/the-dawn-after-curfew/article1-1192577.aspx
- One Haider is not enough - The author (name not disclosed, but it is available with many reputed magazines) is a retired army officer and served in the Kashmir Valley from 1994 to 1997. He has written about Haider and all those little known details about Kashmir & Army operations. It is his credibility and honesty about the practices/strategies used by the army in Kashmir that really helped to get some better insights about Kashmir. You must read this article before you even think of forming an opinion about Haider. I am getting a print copy of this article for future reference. You can read this article here: http://www.business-standard.com/article/news-ani/one-haider-is-not-enough-114100500087_1.html
- Introducing Kashmir: On Haider, Vishal Bharadwaj’s Riff on Hamlet - I did not use this article for reference here, but found it to be extremely well written by Manash Bhattacharjee. He is a poet, writer, and political science scholar based in New Delhi. His knowledge, class is quite evident from this article here: http://brightlightsfilm.com/introducing-kashmir-haider-vishal-bharadwajs-riff-hamlet#.VDXk7CU32no
- A Kashmiri speaks: Why Haider is a must-see film for every Indian – A Kasmiri, Sameer Yasir claims to have an insider’s view and explains why it is must see for every Indian. Read it here – http://www.firstpost.com/bollywood/a-kashmiri-speaks-why-haider-is-a-must-see-film-for-every-indian-1741527.html
- Haider is not the only story of Kashmir - Sunanda Vashisht’s article explaining all that she didn’t like about Haider and how VB and Basharat Peer made it a mess. I have already addressed some of her objects earlier epilogue. Though, I agree with the title, and I think it is implicitly understood by most of us that Haider in not the only story of Kashmir. Well, Haider is a story of Haider, Kashmir happens to be the place where the story is set. Nevertheless, we should have many more stories from different authors with different perspectives from Kashmir. Though I don’t agree with her views, this article helps in articulating most of the objections about Haider in one place – http://www.dnaindia.com/india/report-haider-is-not-the-only-story-of-kashmir-2024038
- F.i.g.h.t C.l.u.b - This is my favourite blog for movie reviews. They have plenty of posts on Haider and these are particularly helpful – Haider On Haider by Netherlands based filmmaker who was born in Delhi to a German mother and a Kashmiri father. The other one is Haider: Uncertain, Complex, Asymmetric… Because the screenplay is Kashmir by Nadi Palshikar who happens to be an MBBS doctor and FTTI educated film enthusiast. There is also a nice post about ‘Haider: Outsourced Art’, that shows collection of several people’s expressions about Haider through their own creations.
Books – As mentioned before, these two books look quite interesting if you want to know more.