Paradise lost in Bollywood’s Garam Masala: a Kashmiri’s perspective

August 20, 2015

by Aamir Qayoom

I could see some Kashmiri lads discussing the Bajrangi twist while munching rolls and dipping tea bags in one of the central university I happened to visit recently. All that I could make out from their dhabha debate was the fact that paradise (Kashmir) has got lost in the Bollywood hungama. This concern for the paradise connects us with the knotty and tricky representation of Kashmir in contemporary Bollywood films. While ‘Haider’ as a movie claimed to portray real Kashmir for an outsider, it also sparked an infectious critical forum in the form of the brainy discourses getting published in considerable cyber and print spaces. It would be a case of intellectual sedation to believe that Bollywood has represented Kashmir in a genuine way. Each buzzy film of Bollywood on Kashmir has nurtured a sadistic torture to the people who are agog about the indisputable representation of Kashmir on screen. Such representation conditions mental geography of people to believe their land to be a politically frustrated wasteland.

Bajrangi Bhaijaan, a movie directed by Kabir Khan, portrays the impediments of a young sincere Indian man in finding the home of a lost little mute girl of Pakistan. While Salman Khan is being praised for his acting in this film by his fellow actors, it cannot be denied that this moves clearly highlight the question – is art for art’s sake or life’s sake? This movie as a film text resonates with the idea of the use of art as a screen therapy to vitiate the minds with designed discourses and ideologies. However, it is equally important to highlight what kind of discourse is being pushed forward through this film. Is it a piece of art which romanticizes the facts? Is this a genuine mistake as far as Kashmir and its politics are concerned?

One of the quintessential things about this film is that it speaks from a perspective of ‘being human’. The message which comes out rather forcibly is respect for the human being irrespective of his/her religion and state. Bajrangi Bhaijaan as a movie is essentially a humanist story which pushes forward the idea that humanity is ones basic religion. It is a film not only with a humanistic touch but with a scope for the discourse of religious pluralism as well. Bajrangi Bhaijaan exposes the stereotypes motivated and conditioned by cultural formations. It goes a long way in questioning the political discourse which has reduced the populace to a state where they are not minds for the mucky politicians, but heads. The heads which can be easily controlled.

Walls and boundaries that divide nations are questioned by this movie. The boundaries that divide people are shown to be an apolitical construct, while the desire of people to live in a borderless world is voiced. The people of both sides of LOC are shown breaking the border gates, thereby giving a clarion call for a borderless society. However, it remains a fact that things are more complex than they are shown in this movie. It has failed to trace the constant psychosis of the people living near LOC. The border crisis and skirmishes which invite lot of aversion and counter aversion are simply mistreated. This politics of silence on realistic things and the pushing forward of a beautifully crafted discourse does invite serious prognosticated questions.

To exoticize and romanticize Kashmir has been the recent trend in Bollywood, which fully emerged in the parody movie Haider. This reminds me a press conference of Salman Khan in Kashmir some time back. Salman said “The press conference was not to promote Bajrangi Bhaijaan but to rightfully promote Kashmir tourism & it is truly beautiful”. Doesn’t Salman Khan’s remark speak volumes about the manner Kashmir is looked at by the outsider? Are there two Kashmir’s inside Kashmir – from the insider’s perspective and from the outsider’s perspective?

However Salman may be right about Kashmir’s beauty, how beautiful is it for the people who live under the fragile environment of uncertain peace conditioned by political factors? How beautiful it is for the educated youth who end up taking arms? This movie too has commercialized Kashmir with a hyper-reality twist. It sells it well with its opening focus on the snow-laden mountains and picturesque beauty of Kashmir. Dear Bollywood directors, stop selling and romanticizing this political laboratory where people are also victims of political somersaults. Stop hegemonising thoughts of people living outside Kashmir by deceiving them with a picturesque and quixotic Kashmir.

Shooting in Kashmir is not same as shooting in Switzerland. Shooting in Kashmir has its own boundaries and responsibilities to meet the expectations of the people of Kashmir. While some people praise this movie for the humanistic twist, what is the message for a Kashmiri in it? Why were Kashmiris waiting for the movie with so much enthusiasm? Where is Kashmir in Bajrangi Bhaijaan ? These are million dollar questions, but Bollywood seems to be not interested in this reality. If the film is shot in Kashmir, it is important to consider what kind of impression is it giving to the outsiders. After little thought, it can only be concluded that Kashmir is shown as a place where people are busy hearing kawalis, where people live peacefully insiders their picturesque huts. Where is the mucky politics which has fractured the hopes of Kashmiris ? Where are the voices of dissent that are part and parcel of Kashmir’s streets and chowks ? It’s not a movie on the Kashmir issue – that could be one response to silence me. But the fact remains that it is a movie centrally based in Kashmir. By covering the bitter truths of Kashmir, mixing it with Bollywood Masala, the movie only adds to the list of Bollywood hungama about Kashmir.

While people are mesmerized with the Bajrangi twist to Kashmir, this movie leaves some pressing questions unattended. If Bajrangi Bhaijaan is a movie about India and Pakistan, then where are the genuine political aspirations of Kashmir? Is this a movie which romanticizes Kashmir to woo Bollywood projects for shooting in Kashmir? Is it a piece of propaganda to show how peaceful Kashmir is with its dazzling and mesmerizing beauty? Is it a genuine desire of chief minister of J&K to promote peace in the valley, and does the message in the film resonate with his party manifesto? Or is it Asiya Andrabi’s cultural aggression of India where Salman acts as an Indian agent? As I stop here, these questions remain raised in search of answers and genuine engagement.

[The writer has studied English literature and currently studies gender and women studies program at Delhi University.]

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