Celebrating Haider For Different Reasons

WrittenBy:Kunal Singh

The buzz around the movie Haider was accompanied by more than stray calls for a boycott. Many declared the movie to be “anti-national” and “anti-Indian Army”. This only increased my curiosity as I had to first judge for myself whether the movie deserves a boycott. After watching the movie, my suspicion came true – the boycott call was just another showmanship of drawing room patriotism that many of us practise as a hobby. After watching the movie I read many articles on it – one on Newslaundry. I do not agree with the prism through which Aditya Raj Kaul wanted the readers to view the plot. I will, however, first address the doubts pervading the nationalistic credentials of the movie.

Haider is an important milestone not just in the journey of Indian cinema but also in the evolution of Indian statehood. That we can confront the realities of Kashmir through a popular commercial medium richly deserves commendation. Can China allow a movie on its repression of Tibetans or the Uyghurs? Will Sri Lanka allow a mainstream cinema showing the brutal realities of the war that purged LTTE? Will Pakistan allow a movie that brings to sunlight the subject of Baloch nationalism? India today stands head and shoulders above its neighbours in the way it is ready to face up to its realities. Credit has to be given to the political consensus that has upheld our democracy for more than six decades albeit a brief suspension in the 1970s. The manner in which this democracy has evolved given the instability around us is truly exemplary.

Benedict Anderson defined a nation as “an imagined political community”. “It is imagined becaused the members of even the smallest nations will never know most of their fellow members, meet them or even hear of them, yet in the minds of each lives the image of their communion”, he further expounded. Kashmir is at the heart of the film which is also a place where this “image of communion” and thus the concept of nationhood is frayed at its edges. Haider is a part of a political project that is grappling with the concept of nationalism day in and day out. To bracket Haider as anti-national in such a scenario is amateurish and an ignorance of astounding proportion.

If one says Kashmir is struggling with its identity, it does not reflect on the nationalistic credentials of the speaker. It is a plain simple truth. If an inhabitant has to invoke Article 370 and United Nations Security Council Resolution 47 to define her identity, then she is not a normal citizen of a modern nation-state. I completely appreciate the efforts of the Indian state to plug the identity crisis of Kashmir but the fact remains that we have been partially successful and have made many mistakes along the way.

I remember broaching the subject of AFSPA with a reputed policy analyst few months ago. I cannot name the person as I do not have his permission to do so. His take on the subject was crisp and realist. He said, “It is an awful thing to see army men standing outside your house constantly keeping a vigil on you. It is, however, inevitable. As inevitable as chemotherapy is to treatment of cancer. Chemotherapy is certainly one of the most harrowing experiences of your life but it is essential to deal with the cancer.” Insurgency in Kashmir is like a cancer and AFSPA is a part of chemotherapy. It is a matter of debate whether the chemotheraphy has been overdone or is still in pre-completion phase. Why is insurgency in Kashmir a cancer? “Abandon Kashmir and the next day Pakistan will get hold of it. The minorities in Kashmir will bear the biggest brunt. Kashmiri Pandits who have a semblance of hope today will lose even that. Shias in Kashmir will also not be safe just like Shias in Pakistan,” he added.

Haider is forthright in two essential points that it makes- 1) truth is complex and layered and 2) it is not easy to challenge the might of a state like India. While the political leanings of Haider are very clear, it never spirals into propaganda. The script appreciated the complexities of the problem. In spite of the discontent, the Army was able to build a counterinsurgent group called Ikhwaan. The movie does not demur in admitting that the separatists are living on the payrolls of Pakistan and its nepharious agencies. The movie points out more than once the futility of violence and revenge in achieving independence.

It might not have highlighted these facts with the vigour that our drawing room patriots would have liked but it hardly matters. Kashmir is first a political challenge before it is a military mission and the political leanings of the kind Haider has are accepted in a liberal democratic country like India. A retired Army officer wrote praising the movie, “Let a thousand more Haiders bloom.” One of India’s top strategic affairs experts Commodore C Uday Bhaskar had this to tweet after watching Haider-

I read some of the articles that appeared in the media on this movie. The article by the retired Army officer is the best I could find. He knows the nuances of the Kashmir issue and reconciles the political debate with the military aspects quite seamlessly. The piece penned by Aditya Raj Kaul on Newslaundry, in my opinion, perhaps did not criticise the movie as much as revealed his desire to make a different movie altogether addressing things that he and many others, legitimately, want addressed.

While Mukul Kesavan wrote mostly about the flaws in the adaptation from the Shakespearean tragedy Hamlet, he ends on a rather confounding note, “[Haider’s] great achievement is to bring Kashmir out of the closet; it’s failure is that it can’t decide whether it wants to picture bleakness or proffer hope”. Mukul Kesavan clearly could not see that the movie was not a committee set up to give concrete suggestions. The movie recognised the profundity of the problem and that in itself is commendable. We have a battery of politicians, strategistis, civil society members and army generals working to find a solution.

To Mukul Kesavan, I would like to suggest not to look for either a bleak picture or a ray of hope when all a sincere though biased (the two are not irreconcilable) project like Haider can paint is – in words of a columnist in a different context – “a twilight terrain where hope and despair live in an uneasy truce”. To our drawing room patriots I would like to quote Woodrow Wilson, “Uncompromising thought is the luxury of the closeted recluse”.


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