Is ‘Haider’ really a threat to Pakistan’s ideology?

Published: October 17, 2014
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The film is overtly tilted towards the Kashmiri separatists, casting the Indian armed forces in a mostly villainous role.

This is not a review of the film ‘Haider’, but an evaluation of the strong political reactions it has generated. This review is unsuitable for adults easily aggrieved by unfavourable judgement of their political views.

Vishal Bhardwaj has established himself as an artist who likes to prod controversial subjects, just to see what happens. While the film itself boasts an impressive rendition of Shakespeare’s magnus opus, set to the beat of dazzling musical numbers, and jaw-dropping footage of the embattled valley, what truly stands out is its boldness.

India: 2/5 stars

While Haider managed to successfully squeeze its way through tight grasp of the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC), it did not do so without being permanently disfigured.

With content including gruesome torture scenes, violent deaths and some foul language, the original production may well have been the ‘Django Unchained’ of Bollywood. It took no less than 41 cuts to tame this wild beast of a film.

Yet a greater nightmare awaited the film: Indian jingoists with internet access.

Armed with the ‘BoycottHaider’ hashtag, nationalists marched onto Twitter to express their arrant outrage for a movie that limns the brutality of the Indian armed forces in their attempts to squash the separatist movement. It depicts a crowd of Kashmiris demanding ‘azadi’ (freedom), and features the dreaded ‘P’ word: ‘Plebiscite’. And when you’ve reached the precipice of your patience, it tips you over with Shahid Kapoor’s mockery of the national song, “Saray Jahan Se Acha”.

Is it treasonous? No.

Is it a grossly inaccurate depiction of events in Kashmir? Yeah… no.

The film may be accused of telling half-truths, for instance, by making no mention of the suffering and exodus of the Kashmiri pundits in the late 80s. But then again, this is not a documentary, and is not compelled to inform you of all aspects of the crisis. ‘Haider’ is no reason to safely bunk your history class.

To make it worse, the Allahabad High Court issued legal notice to the filmmakers and the censor board after a petition was filed against the film by a group of local lawyers calling themselves, ‘Hindu Front for Justice’ (not to be confused with the fictitious ‘Justice League’ of America).

At this point, it’s appropriate to ask India to ‘cool it’. Your film industry has repeatedly churned out patriotic films like ‘Border’, ‘Mission Kashmir’ and ‘Agent Vinod’. Your national integrity will likely withstand the “chutzpah” of one film that isn’t a 180-minutes advertisement for the Indian intelligence and armed forces.

Pakistan: 1/5 stars

It was almost destined to be well-received in Pakistan, except that the Pakistan censor board deemed it being “against the ideology of Pakistan”, and stated that it will “most likely” not be screened here.

It’s important to recognise the implication of the board’s decision. The insinuation is that the “ideology of Pakistan” is so fragile that Anarkali can’t stroke it with a peacock’s feather without causing it to shatter into a million tiny crystals. The ideology must, at all times, wear a titanium breast-plate and a visor without eye holes, so to not be tested by the winds of free information.

Haider’ is a film overtly tilted towards the Kashmiri separatists, casting the Indian armed forces in a mostly villainous role. It takes an especially thin skin for a Pakistani to condemn this movie simply for its fleeting mention of Operation Gibraltar (that too by a nefarious Indian officer, in an attempt to justify his heartless approach to the separatist movement), and the occasional dialogue accusing both India and Pakistan (yes, in the same sentence) of neglecting the welfare of the Kashmiri people, amidst their own political games.

It’s frightful, yet entirely expected.

It is to be noted that the very existence of ‘Haider’ indicates maturity and an increased tolerance among both countries at processing opposing ideas. The reactions, however, prove that this is merely the first of the thousand miles we need to transverse.

Faraz Talat

Faraz Talat

A medical doctor and bubble-wrap enthusiast from Rawalpindi, who writes mostly about science and social politics (and bubble-wrap). He tweets @FarazTalat (twitter.com/FarazTalat)

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.