Of Representations and Misrepresentatiions

By Raoof Mir, Idris Bhat


downloadThe film Haider pacifies dissent into a fashionable commodity, to be sold and consumed

Kashmir is a beautiful place beset by misfortune (violence, presence of malevolent bearded men and their nemesis called brave Indian army) in the Indian public imagination. One of the key apparatuses that have constructed such an imagination has been Bollywood. Bollywood through its representations of Kashmir has had a phenomenal role in creating and sustaining imagery, myths and legends about Kashmir in the popular imagination of Indians. Until the late 1980’s, Kashmir largely was advertised as a tourist location; a place of romance, music, drama, where in the words of India’s first Prime Minster Jawaharlal Nehru “Loveliness reigns and enchantment steals the senses.”

Indians living in harsh geographical conditions would elate and fantasize while watching their heroes and heroines dancing and singing in beautiful locations like Dal Lake, Pahalgam or Gulmarg. All these years Bollywood films deliberately and consciously ignored the political machinations of Indian state in silencing and repressing the demand for self-determination by Kashmiris. People of Jammu and Kashmir got used to such misrepresentations while Indian public consciousness increasingly became fond of Kashmir, the so called beautiful crown of the Indian state.

In 1987 when Kashmiris took arms to challenge Indian state and demanded their right to self determination, Indian military responded with systematic and atrocious repression. Kashmir became a prison and every prisoner was subjected to draconian laws and rules. New forms of representation emerged in the form of movies, documentaries, books, news reporting, and columns and so on to legitimize the use of repression and violence by the Indian state in order to discipline the ugly minds of the beautiful land. Bollywood helped to a large extent in extending such legitimization business. Now Kashmir mockingly became a beautiful land threatened by its own people. This coincided with the emergence of Hindu fascist forces at the larger Indian political scene. It was in this period when Bollywood began to cash on the new changing circumstances by exposing Kashmir as a land contaminated with terrorists.  A splurge of patriotic movies in the form of Roja, Kargil, Pukar, Mission Kashmir etc began to come out with the core centric theme of presenting Kashmir as atoot ang (integral part) of India.

These movies propagated the jingoistic message by painting Kashmir as beautiful land corroded by ugly men thereby demonizing the place as well as its people. The spate of movies in this period quite like the movies of the former decades was quite oblivious of the common people of Kashmir and mostly linked the freedom struggle of Kashmir with Islamic resurgence. This representation of Kashmir by Bollywood mindfully never caught the serious attention of Kashmiris. This was because of being aware of the fact of not expecting from the soft power of the state that kills and maims them indiscriminately. They would not care because they have had seen decades of repression and misrepresentation. They had seen rigged elections, jailing of popular leaders and most importantly unmet promise of Nehru in UNO of holding a plebiscite.

Such cynicism and apathy however was not there when people heard about Haider, an adaptation of Shakespearean tragedy titled Hamlet. It generated hope as for the first time Kashmiris expected a representation that could do justice to their right to be or not to be. The raison d’être of the hope culminated from the association of celebrated Kashmiri journalist Basharat Peer and other Kashmiri actors with the movie Haider. In fact in the past one decade people of Jammu and Kashmir have started representing themselves. The natives have begun to tell their own stories. They have started writing memoirs, poems, novels and academic books (though mainly dominated by upper caste Muslims of Kashmir known as peers, Sayids, Geelanis). The alliance of the natives with the movie makes Haider important as it is also written and acted by those who themselves have lived the period of violence.

After the release of the movie Haider, there have been series of articles opined by noted critics on the representations and misrepresentations of Kashmir in the movie. Some have celebrated the depiction of the human rights violations and some have shown obvious resentment. But the truth is that Haider succeeds as well as fails in doing justice to the people of Jammu and Kashmir. Its success lies in showing the torture meted out to people or put simply it falls within the human rights perspective about Kashmir.  Many of those who have celebrated the depiction of human rights violation by calling Haider an ‘introduction of the vocabulary of the conflict’ to the general Indian masses see in Haider a new beginning, radically different from the existing relationship of Kashmir with Bollywood. Haider is releasing at a time when India no longer can claim its secular credentials under the disguise of which it had laid its claims on Kashmir through Sheikh Abdullah.

Haider fails to represent the history of deceit and repression that forced the people to take arms and demand their rights. It fails to show what is it that provokes people there to challenge the might of Indian state. It fails to show that 1995 is only an outcome of decades of treachery and repression of Indian and Pakistan states along with the collaborators of Kashmir. In fact it disrespects and belittles the sanctity of resistance of people by locating the sources of human resistance in failed relationships and oedipal complex. It makes a disservice to people by not locating the role of structures of power in dominating and regulating the motivations and actions of the people.

Another way in which the movie makes comedy of the tragedy is by passing a remark on Kashmiri Pundits. Kashmir is complex because of the complexities of narratives, counter-narratives and meta-narratives. It is a fact that Kashmiri Pundits irrespective of their regressive politics have suffered as much as the Muslims of Kashmir. Their representation can’t by any means justified by making a passing remark by the Army officer by questions the veracity of the term ‘disappeared’.

Haider is not in any sense to be looked upon thus as a better representation of the Kashmir conflict or even a new beginning in the exploration of Kashmir in Bollywood. Haider is an extension of the cinema which simply depicts the position of India’s upper classes towards ‘other’ (Dalits, Muslims, Poor People, and Women) in the age of neo-liberalism. This leads to nothing but the objectification of the ‘other’ by aestheticising it through critical cinema in the ages of neoliberal onslaught.

Haider is important as it signals to us that the dominating ideology has learned quite well in assimilating the ideology of its critique. Haider implies that the capitalism has won the war for modern democracies in sabotaging their adversaries. It teaches a lesson of showing us how the neoliberal free market societies have successfully learned to control dissent as have been opined by Alasdair Roberts in his book “End of Protest: How Free Market Capitalism Learned to control dissent”.

Capitalism in democratic societies no longer aims to annihilate the counter-ideologies but instead tries to own and fuse theses ideologies to its grand nationalist narrative through political recuperation. Haider simply allows the overlapping of discourse and counter discourse therefore making the content redundant while at the same time retaining its form- that of a commercial product. Haider incorporates dissent into a mass culture of consumption, by pacifying the dissent into a fashionable commodity, to be sold and consumed. Haider in a sense is a clue to the oppressed by inviting them to commodify their dissent. War is and has ultimately become a commodity, to be sold from all sides.





Published by Raoof Mir

PhD Student, studying Media, Religion and Culture at Centre for Media Studies, JNU, New Delhi, India

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