Haider Is The Most Realistic Film On Kashmir's Horrors

21 October 2014

Srinagar: If Anthony Quinn starrer Lion of the Desert stirred the pot of separatism, Vishal Bhardwaj's Haider brought the tragedies of Kashmir into mainstream cinema. Memories of Quinn's portrayal of Omar Al-Mukhtar, a Libyan revolutionary, still play in the minds of Kashmiris. How Kashmiris after watching the movie in the iconic Regal cinema in the 1980s raised pro-freedom slogans and brought down the portrait of National Conference founder Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah in Lal Chowk. Decades later, thanks to Bhardwaj's Haider, the plight of a commoner in the Valley resonates nationwide. From enforced disappearances to unmarked graves, to custodial killings and torture, to Ikhwani terror, Kashmir's underbelly is laid bare on the 70mm. The Shakespearean roots aside, Haider is an authentic narrative of Kashmir. The horrors of crackdown, the abuse of being treated as an alien in one's own land, the obsession with identity cards, the torture chambers, custodial killings, the CAT (criminal apprehension technique under which a militant is interrogated and forced to become an army and police informer), the half widows, the unending struggle of parents of disappeared people and the terror of private militia aided by security forces. It is like reliving the Kashmir of the Nineties, which everyone wants to forget. Every month a group of people under the banner of Association of Parents of Disappeared People (APDP) stage a peaceful sit-in at Lal Chowk to highlight their struggle to locate their loved ones. For years this ritual has been going on. But the parents have not given up. They soldier on in the hope that one day they will be able to find their dear ones. According to APDP around 8,000 people have been subject to enforced disappearance. When Haider showed Shahid Kapoor leading the pack of parents of disappeared people and his struggle to find his father in jails and camps, the dark truth of Kashmir's missing people was once again brought into focus. The discovery of unmarked graves and its portrayal in the movie, too, was perceived to have revived the discourses of the APDP that some of those buried might have been 'forced to disappear' and later killed. As per APDP estimates, there are 7,000 unmarked graves in five districts of Jammu and Kashmir. The Ikhwani (surrendered militants who became part of private militia) terror is still fresh in the minds of people. The unbridled power to kill, loot and extort was considered fair in the war against terror. It opened an unending trail of human rights abuses. Some of the erstwhile Ikhwanis might have been killed while others have been absorbed in the various wings of the forces. In Anantnag, an Ikhwani camp used to flaunt a banner: 'Get them by their balls, the hearts and minds will follow'. Such a mindset inspired their brutalities. It is easy to find parallels with actor KK Menon's character of an Ikhwani leader with several dead and alive counter-insurgents. However, the most talked about scenes of the film dealt with the depiction of detention centres and torture techniques which have been at the heart of the 25-year-old fight against insurgency in Kashmir. In Haider, Papa 2 - one of the most dreaded detention centres in the Valley - became Mama 2. Papa 2 has been refurbished after security forces vacated the facility. Ironically, the bungalow on Gupkar overlooking the Dal Lake now serves as the official residence of Mehbooba Mufti and her father Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, the leaders of main opposition People's Democratic Party. The crackdown scene early on in the film too brought back memories of fear and humiliation. All the members of a neighbourhood had to step out of their houses, and parade before a masked informer whose job was to identify militants. The film is close to reality. The author of Curfewed Night, Basharat Peer, who also wrote Haider's screenplay, summed it up aptly: 'Haider is different as it is a more realistic film that takes on a politically-charged subject. I have always written about Kashmir but it was really brave of Vishal Bhardwaj to go along with a story like this. It is the longest, bravest journey any Indian filmmaker has made on Kashmir'.