CONSTRUCTION OF KASHMIR AND KASHMIRIS IN INDIAN CINEMA: Understanding trends of Bollywood movies

  • BY MUNEEB YOUSUF
  • Publish Date: Oct 1 2018 4:35AM
  • |
  • Updated Date: Oct 1 2018 4:35AM
CONSTRUCTION OF KASHMIR AND KASHMIRIS IN INDIAN CINEMA: Understanding trends of Bollywood moviesFile Photo

The study of cinema has led to new scholarship in the field of International and Cultural Studies. The misrepresentation of ‘east’ by Hollywood has long been criticized to which due credit also goes to the master-piece– Orientalism by Edward Said. Said’s work propelled both academia and popular media to look how power at different levels is used to disseminate different variants of truth about people, their culture and other things which actually do not reflect the reality. Cultural imperialism as it could be referred as, has never ceased to exist instead it has been truly embraced by even post-colonial states to sell their own discourses, in order to strengthen nationalistic narratives. 

In the terms of a layman, cinema is a window which picturizes everything from abstract to practical to audiences creating a deep niche both in their hearts and minds. At times cinema becomes an instrument through which certain views are cultivated enabling to toe in masses. The instrumentalism of cinema under circumstances acts as gentle prodding machinery to raise huge chunks of viewers who consider cinematic portrayal as authentic and gospel truth.

During the early 1950s Kashmir’s lush green fields dotted with water bodies and snow clad mountains featured in Bollywood movies. The scenic beauty of Kashmir was certainly a better choice for film makers. Apart from serving the beautiful background for film-makers, the movies shot in Kashmir made Indian masses realize the importance of Kashmir valley. It could be argued that the films shot in Kashmir triggered popular imagination of Indian masses to what Benedict Anderson calls “Imagined community” with territory of Kashmir its indelible part.

The Indian cinema’s obsession with Kashmir’s beauty took a break, though only for a while, when Roja was released in 1992. The movie was a fine departure from the earlier movies in the sense that it brought violence taking place in the valley to screen, though with an aim of projecting circumstances in different light. The title of the movie stood for an Indian woman who makes desperate efforts to bring back her husband, who is kidnapped by Kashmiri militants. Instilled with patriotic fervor, the movie sends off the dominant security discourse of protecting the “heaven on earth” and completely denying the political exigencies and mounting discontentment that led the violence at the first stage. In other words, the movie manufactured the consent among Indian masses of using violence to counter any moves that did not fit with nationalistic narrative. The movie was immensely praised by Indian audiences and it won three National awards including best film on national integration.

The post-colonial states of India and Pakistan instead of fostering peace have perpetuated the rivalry with cinema projecting the other sovereign state as an ‘enemy’, ‘devil’, ‘disloyal’. In this agenda, Indian cinema reduced Kashmir to just a material thing with no scope for its people and their emotions. In Maa Tujhe Salaam movie, which was released in 2002, Sunny Deol ferociously remarks: “Tum doodh mangogay hum kheer denge…Tum Kashmir mangogay hum cheer dengay [If you ask for milk, we will give you sweet…if you ask for Kashmir, we will tear you apart].

It suggests that Indian cinema’s representation of Kashmir and Kashmiri people has hardly come close to reality, instead it has built its position on mere nationalism and rhetoric. Not only this, Indian cinema at times dictates to Kashmiris what variant of Islam they embrace. The movie Mission Kashmir, which was released in 2000, though not overtly but subtly promotes Sufi tradition of Islam.

The latest movies of Bollywood are reproducing the old rhetoric on Kashmir, constructing lies and time again displaying sheer nationalistic narratives and sometimes hyper-nationalism. In a recent movie, Baaghi 2, the lead actor who happens to be an army commander on a duty in Kashmir uses local Kashmiri as a human shield to protect himself from stone-pelting crowd. The army commander seems to be a hyper-nationalist one. During the inquiry, the commander argues that the burning of an Indian flag pushed him to tie the civilian on his military jeep. Interesting to note that for this human rights violations, the commander faces only couple of rounds on the ground as punishment. This scene in the movie is a great disservice to the real incident, wherein Major Gogoi tied Farooq Ahmed Dar, a Kashmiri civilian, to his jeep and Gogoi was commended for it. Unsurprisingly, the movie doesn’t feature the ordeal of Farooq Ahmed Dar after being used as a human shield. The couple of rounds that the commander has to run as a punishment, reinforces the impunity that military forces enjoy in the garb of Armed Forces Special Power Act (AFSPA). The movie not only absolves the Major for the human rights violations that he commits but also projects him as a hero who is extremely nationalistic and can go to any length to save the Indian flag from getting trampled by someone. The movie also indicates that to justify inhuman treatment of civilians will create their own stories based on none other than lies and deceits.

In the recent collection of movies on Kashmir is Raazi, where a Kashmiri family has been shown as spies. In the movie, Alia Bhatt (Sehmat), a Kashmiri girl, is married into a Pakistani army family, to elicit information for India in the backdrop of an imminent separation of Bangladesh. The movie is a sheer display of going to any level for the sake of nationalism. The movie shows Kashmiri girl as extremely loyal to Indian state but again fails to depict the other side of the coin, where Kashmiris are regularly seen with skepticism and nothing other than those who have deep allegiance towards Pakistan.