A Beautiful Mess That Walks On The Edge Of The Deep But Never Dives
It’s a beautifully told love story where you fall in love with the leads instantly, but the timing of the film borders on propaganda which makes you want to question motives of the film. Why this? Why now? The film doesn’t take a stand like Harud or JoJo Rabbit even, but offers a very tame Life Is Beautiful version.
First, The Problem
It’s been six months since the Indian government led by the saffron heads Narendra Modi and Amit Shah have scrapped the special status given to J&K since our independence and appropriated it as a state without a plebiscite. We have been told life is normal but political leaders have been under house arrest, there is no internet or phone services and there are reports of infiltration from a neighboring country. Kashmir is still a time bomb, now covered in saffron. Yes, life for Kashmiri pandits has been awful. They’ve been refugees in our own country, driven out by guns and a helpless government that made many mistakes.
There is a dialog in the film where a dying ‘extremist’ says, ‘You killed and we killed and the killing will go on in Kashmir’ which gives you goosebumps, but every other time it tries a political dialog, you hear Nirmala Sitharaman struggle with Myon Watan in your head and you wonder why did they make this propaganda film now?
The war is brewing and I am afraid, this film is not going to help.
There Is A Bigger Film Buried In This Film
No matter how beautifully this film has been shot, Harud it is not. I was more touched – shook really – by the montage of forlorn, shattered, abused, empty homes (presumably Pandit homes) than the entire political propaganda the film tries to make. You wonder how many more refugee stories are there, you wonder what horrors are buried in the rubble, you wonder if those apple trees bear any fruit today or is that fruit poisoned too?
There is a shot in the film where the lead pair return to their former home and look at the corner which was their ‘Puja Room’. It has now been replaced by the kitchen sink. The poignancy of the moment hits you really hard. And somewhere you want revenge from people who for very obvious political reasons painted the whole house green. But it is just one moment which could have been a part of a very different narrative.
Another moment is when the children stare at ‘masterji’ and he asks, ‘Why are you staring at me?’ One child answers, ‘He has never seen a ‘pandit’ before…’
Could have been Jojo Rabbit, this film, but isn’t. Of course it instantly reminds me of the social media post where the kids in Kashmir are playing a game called ‘Frisk’. A game where some children play ‘Kashmiris’ and others ‘Police’. The police frisk the Kashmiris. A horrific childhood, no? But this film does not go there.
But let’s make a love story instead.
A beautiful love story of Shiv and Shanti who fall in love over poetry (of course about shikaras) and then get married in the traditional Kashmiri way (insert folksy wedding songs/traditional wedding rituals here) and they have a wonderful family and a brother who is a doctor and they have friends who are Muslim and everyone lives wonderfully and they eat fat, juicy luscious apples, and Rogan Josh. Shiv Dhar’s best friend who is a cricketer and Muslim and they love one another and Kashmir is truly a paradise until buses begin to go to Rawalpindi right from the main bus stand and there are cops with guns and terrorists with Amriki guns leftover from the Afghanistan war and his best friend’s dad is shot and of course he runs away to Pakistan and becomes a terrorist. Months later Shiv is picked up and he meets former best friend who is now terrorist and is told to leave for India with family because of the said friendship…
Eventually everyone who is a Hindu is made to leave and live in horrendous conditions in Jammu and later Delhi and yet there is something incredible about their love which is enduring and fragile and beautiful. They make a life in the tents and Shiv keeps writing letters to the American president for justice and teaches camp children, and Shanti keeps making Rogan Josh.
You wonder why she isn’t playing Florence Nightingale since she’s been shown to attend nursing college when they were romancing… But everything has been shot so beautifully that you care about their despair and the Rogan Josh.
I feel awful for not feeling the pain of the thousands that were forcibly evacuated simply because this is not a partition film where trains full of refugees from both sides of the India-Pakistan border were hacked to death. This is not a story by Manto which tears you apart inside because he lives there even though his heart belongs to Bombay. No Toba Tek Singh, no Leon Uris’s Exodus which chronicles the pain of homelessness and the hollowness of the promise of a promised land of Israel like nothing before or nothing after… But this love story is tender. Too tender to survive the harshness of the realities, and hence seem unbelievable in parts.
‘We will always have Paris,’ Rick says in Casablanca. This film has love, but does not kick you in the gut like Casablanca does. This is Exodus lite. Casablanca Skimmed.
The lead pair make their debut and are beautiful together. Aadil Khan and Sadia are so perfect in their love, we love watching them meet, fall in love, get married and get old with a smile on our faces.
The cinematography in Bajrangi Bhaijaan showed us how fabulous Kashmir is. The Chinars in Haider have left a permanent mark on my brain. In this film their wedding night on the Shikara is beautiful but the shot of fat, juicy apples on their tree made me hungry.
This film has crappy timing, and knows it. The claims of displaced people all over the world are real, but when accompanied with tales that become romanticised collective memories that communication students will understand…
The problem is that the film dog whistles so much you are left in a quandary whether to like it (and hence aiding the propaganda) or to hate it (and then everyone looks at you as if you are a traitor).
So I came away feeling as stranded as the calf on Patnitop. Unkindly wondering if it became part of some Wazwan…