(Note: This article was sent to us by IndiaFcts reader Nikhil Koul. He can be followed on Twitter at
In his review of D.W. Griffith’s iconic film “The Birth of a Nation”, the late great American film critic Roger Ebert wrote:
“….But it is possible to separate the content from the craft? Garry Wills observes that Griffith’s film “raises the same questions that Leni Riefenstahl’s films do, or Ezra Pound’s poems. If art should serve beauty and truth, how can great art be in the thrall of hateful ideologies?”
The crucial assumption here is that art should serve beauty and truth. I would like to think it should, but there is art that serves neither, and yet provides an insight into human nature, helping us understand good and evil……… “
Vishal Bhardwaj’s film “Haider” is partially art in the thrall of the most hateful ideology of mankind -Leftism. While the film does serve beauty in a way, the beauty part is borrowed from both Shakespeare’s magnum opus ‘Hamlet’ as well as the beauty of the Kashmir valley. The film possesses a well concealed sense of anathema against the truth.
Haider is more Basharat Peer’s ‘Curfewed Nights’ than Shakespeare’s ‘Hamlet’. In two separate interviews to ‘The Hindu’ and ‘Times of India’, Vishal Bhardwaj has made the following statements : “I’m not anti-national, but I will comment on what is anti-human” and ” If I am not a leftist, I am not an artist”.
These statements give a general outlook of Bhardwaj’s politics and worldview. It is also clear from his interviews that he did not know much about Kashmir before making this film, so Basharat Peer and Peer’s book was his lens into Kashmir. In that sense, Bhardwaj’s independent views on Kashmir are no more important than that of an occasional foreign tourist to Kashmir before whom an uninterrupted picture of victimization is painted by resident Kashmiris, because the other side of the story (the heartrending plight of Kashmiri Pandits) is not present to debunk the lies.
Interestingly, in Bhardwaj’s earlier movie “Matru ki Bijli ka Mandola,” a 45-crore big budget Bollywood film with popular stars, the lead hero is a JNU product who in his alter-ego as the emancipator of the poor farmers is a superhero-like figure with the name ‘Mao’! This more than anything else shows the degree of comradeship Bhardwaj is affixed to in the domain of leftism, glorifying a mass murderer like Mao. It should have caused outrage in India, unfortunately it didn’t, perhaps because like every radical, subversive leftist thought, it was cloaked in too much distraction. Besides that, the film had multiple allusions to the usual objects of leftist rhetoric and jargon. One wonders why Bhardwaj did not chose to make his fashionable statement on the relation between his allegiance to leftist ideals and his art when it would have been apt for him to do so considering that the film had those themes. Also, it was an original film by Bhardwaj. The answer is simple – a 45-crore film cannot afford to alienate its audience and even the staunchest of leftist-artist souls have to bow to the market and moolah.
Coming back to Haider, there are a few remarkable scenes which reveal its maker’s point of view. In one of the early scenes of Haider’s arrival in Kashmir, he is detained by the Army for calling Anantnag as Islamabad and is later let off after being reminded that there is only one Islamabad. There is a cursory reference by an Army officer on Kashmiri Pandits and also the abandoned house of a Pandit being used to hide the ‘disappeared’ and to kill them later, which is all that Bhardwaj mentions about Pandits of the valley.
The symbolism that Bhardwaj paints is pure propaganda because all the agents of the Indian state or individuals depicted as having favourable disposition or contact with India/Indian Army like Haider’s uncle Khurram who is an advocate and later MLA. Haider’s fiancé’s father Pervez Lone, who is a senior official of the Police, the actors playing Rosencrantz and Guildenstern who are Haider’s childhood friends and to an extent even Haider’s mother Ghazala are all depicted as being deceitful and cunning.
Vishal Bhardwaj’s portrayal of them is a little better than two-faced Januses, thereby casting them in the leftist mould. Only Haider’s father Hilal who treats a wounded terrorist at home is shown as being a compassionate Kashmiri who ‘disappears’ while Haider’s grandfather is seen as a man who wants Kashmiris to achieve independence, but through Gandhian means! These are the only two personas in the film that Vishal Bhardwaj wants people to see as emblematic of good Kashmiri and Kashmiriyat.
The high point of the film is a monologue by Haider in where he reads the provisions of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) before an amused audience and then utters the following lines in a state of borderline lunacy “India Pakistan ne milkar; khela hamarey saath border–border, Ab na humey chhodey Hindustan; Ab na humey chhodey Pakistan, Arrey koi hum se bhi poochey; hum kya chahtey; ‘AZAADI’ “.
The Azaadi slogan is something whose relevance should have been clear to Bhardwaj before he chose to film it in such a nonchalant and pedestrian manner. The word Azaadi carries a barbaric and horrendous context from the forced exodus of Pandits in 1989 which even if Bhardwaj wants to, cannot choose to ignore. It is not as if Bhardwaj is ignorant of facts.
Vithal Chowdhary on ‘Youth for Panun Kashmir’ blog says that Bhardwaj met him near Chakrishwar Temple at Hari Parbat in Kashmir, heard the stories of Pandits and assured them that their stories will find a place in his film. So what exactly did Bhardwaj want to retain about the Pandits in that movie which his fellow scriptwriter Basharat Peer did not want? Or perhaps both omitted the mention of Pandits deliberately? Since none of them is willing to make their responses public, their silence must be construed as an admission of ideological bias.
History has always been the blind spot of leftists and Kashmiri separatists, which is why the action begins in 1995 and not before. Bhardwaj with this film has blindly and blatantly toed the line of the separatists to the extent that he tries to evoke audience sympathy for the terrorist as a ‘freedom fighter’. How does Bhardwaj explain the fact that his heroes, the ordinary Kashmiri Muslims who today claim that both India and Pakistan betrayed them, were shouting “Asi gacchei Pakistan, battaw rostiy; battaneo saan” [We want Pakistan, without Pandit men; with Pandit women] in 1989-90 while cleansing the valley of its 5000 year old native civilization of Kashmiri Pandits? When the choice for Kashmiris was ‘crystal clear’ for Pakistan in 1989, why doesn’t Haider, who is going across the border, reveal his love for Pakistan openly in 1995?
Maybe Vishal Bhardwaj could ask some of the separatist sympathizers and his research subjects where they see the future once they become ‘Azaad’ – Shariah or Democracy? Most importantly, Bhardwaj should know that the persecution of Hindus and Buddhists in Kashmir is a bloody chapter in history which even the mightiest of brave heart storytellers will feel shaky to adapt to celluloid. The persecution was such that there were only 11 families of Pandits left in Kashmir at one point and they had to stay alive by spending their days incognito in villages. Or the fact that there was an infamous spot in Dal Lake called ‘Bat Mazar’ [ Graveyard of Pandits] where Hindus who refused to convert were physically tortured, put into sacks and drowned, and their womenfolk were paraded naked to be humiliated even as they were grieving.
Let’s leave the innumerable events of history of centuries aside. In 1979, Indira Gandhi, the Prime Minister was addressing a rally in Iqbal Park, Srinagar where the crowd of Kashmiris stripped themselves, waved their genitals and performed other unmentionable acts without any fear of the sovereignty of law or sense of dignity. That such people would claim victimhood at the altar of the Indian state in mere decade is one of the miracles of the 20th century.
There is a lot of spiel in Haider about AFSPA where he tries to rhyme it with ‘chutzpah’ in the monologue; one wonders when they are pushing artistic limits on AFSPA. But what stops Bhardwaj and Peer from mentioning Article 370? The last commercial film on Kashmir was in 2010 by Rahul Dholakia named ‘Lamhaa’. That film was sympathetic to the cause of Kashmiri Muslims in the post-1990 scenario. It clearly identified the separatists as the root cause of the problems in Kashmir. This was reason enough for Syed Ali Shah Geelani to ban the film in Kashmir.
In fact, cinema halls were closed in Kashmir owing to the diktats of separatists, the Grand Mufti and other assorted torchbearers of Islamism. However, after watching Haider, the same Syed Ali Shah Geelani said that he plans to reopen cinema halls in Kashmir if more films like Haider are made.
There must be a clause for ‘conditional’ and ‘suitable’ Freedom of Expression in the books of Islamists and their leftist apologists everywhere. Even if that is brushed aside as an aberration, what explains the fact that the leftists and liberals, lovers of free speech et al ganged up and got the 2011 ‘Harud’ literature fest in Kashmir cancelled because it would give the idea, that Kashmir was peaceful and free? Their separatist cousins and associated ilk banned music, cinema and everything unacceptable to their twisted sense of morality—from a fatwa by the Grand Mufti against the all-girl band ‘Pragaash’ to covertly removing Rahul Pandita’s book ‘Our Moon has Blood Clots’ from bookshops in Kashmir.
That unfurling the Indian tricolour is not acceptable in Kashmir is an affront that all Indians have been tolerating since the time of Syama Prasad Mookerjee. The closest analogy to the behavior of separatists is that of Neo-Nazi holocaust deniers who have persistently tried to erase the history of Kashmiri Pandits after 1989-90.
I want to ask Vishal Bhardwaj that given his cinematic insistence on ‘let there be peace in the valley’, does peace have any room for Kashmiri Pandits? If it has, with what guarantee should Kashmiri Pandits return when all the houses they owned were purchased on various pretexts by the Muslims at dirt cheap rates knowing fully well that the exodus has robbed the Pandits of everything and they would need money badly. With what cheek does Vishal Bhardwaj paint the separatists as victims? Even if some injustice has been done to them, surely Bhardwaj should know about conflict zones like Kashmir and how things operate there. And in this case, the people he is painting as victims were the first aggressors and marauders.
There is also a song and dance sequence on the celebration of Ghazala, and Khurram’s wedding has been filmed in the ruins of the Martand temple which may have been a good location for shooting but it has only rubbed salt on the wounds of Kashmiri Pandits. It took the Islamic zealot Sultan Sikandar Butshikan one year to break and desecrate the majestic temple, and just a few days for Vishal Bhardwaj to film it in a vaudevillian manner. It is pertinent to ask Vishal Bhardwaj and his co-writer Peer, how the celebration of an Islamic wedding is being held in a Hindu temple? More so, the ruins of a temple destroyed by a genocidal mass-murderer who gave options to Pandits they were to get again and again till the last one in 1989-90—exactly the same the Yezidis are getting now from ISIS—convert, flee or die. A Sultan whose rule in Kashmir was unparalleled in brutality and oppression of the Pandits. A barbarian who burnt about 300 Kgs of sacred thread of Kashmiri Hindus as a celebration of his brutality over Kaffirs.
If Bhardwaj’s leftism does not behove him to mourn the temple and other ruins and the plight of Pandits, the least he can do is to refrain from making a mockery of their genocide.
As a matter of fact, there have been over 600 temples destroyed and vandalised in Kashmir. Even the official government figures place the number conservatively at about 300 temples. But Vishal Bhardwaj would not have filmed his song and dance in a studio or outside Charar-e-Sharief or Hazratbal mosque. The reasons for which are understandable at large. The least one could have expected of Bhardwaj was that he could have respected the sanctum-sanctorum by not shooting the dancers with their footwear on. Alas, to expect dignity for Hindu sentiments and shrines from leftist ideologues is a huge exercise in futility.
Frankly speaking, if there is an element that defines the resident Kashmiri Muslim and his ‘Kashmiriyat’ which he waves at India just like he waved his genitals it is one word: hypocrisy. He will cry hoarse about removing AFSPA but will complain should there be a talk of withdrawing article 370. Has anyone ever noticed Kashmiri Muslims criticizing Pakistan that it should talk to India and stop terror activities and pressing it for the demands that it troubles India with? The demands, the funds everything except Islam should come from India but should Indians chose to unfurl the tricolour there, they are unwelcome.
On TV and print and elsewhere, the spokesmen of Kashmiris, political or otherwise, shed crocodile tears over the fact that they want Kashmiri Pandits back, but when an Amarnath land row or Kousarnaag Yatra happens, they say don’t Hinduise the valley! The Kashmiris could not protect their own minorities in 1990, but will cry for minorities, in case they are from Gujarat or UP. 600 temples destroyed in Kashmir by Kashmiris, yet the question that pervades his mind is that of Babri Masjid and Hindutva. What else explains that barely six years after Babri Masjid demolition, Omar Abdullah was ready to accept a ministership in the BJP Government. Or the treacherous act of Saifuddin Soz in Lok Sabha in 1999.
Other than hypocrisy, it is an established fact that the pampering of Kashmiris has led to their weltanschauung being so obstinate that no streak of reason can permeate the veil of deliberate ignorance. Rahul Pandita and Neelesh Misra’s book “The Absent State” gives a good insight into this historical aspect of pervasive hypocrisy in Kashmir.
A year ago, as the CM, Omar Abdullah slammed the BCCI for not including Kashmiri cricketer Pervez Rasool in the playing team, the reason being he was the first Kashmiri cricketer in the Indian team. Did Abdullah forget that there was a Vivek Razdan or Suresh Raina in the Indian team? This gesture although seemingly innocuous, is indicative of the psyche of the mainstream Kashmiri and how he has been shown the way to live a good life just by creating ruckus and throwing tantrums and fits. That the political establishment that is in cahoots with separatists and carries out more or less the same deeds in the guise of democracy is perhaps the bane of Kashmir.
Kashmiris like all good sophisticated Islamists, have standard operating procedures. In 1989 they needed a person who they could blame the Pandit exodus on. The secularists gave them Jagmohan, the then governor. Fortunately, Jagmohan, who managed to save Kashmiri Pandits, much to the dismay of Islamists, came out clean on this and exposed each culprit in his important book – ‘My Frozen Turbulence in Kashmir’ and needless to say, his narrative has till date been unchallenged by secularists.
After that, the search for the next villain brought them to the Indian Army. The premise of this is not very difficult to comprehend. The resident Kashmiris pelted stones at Indian Army barely two days after flood relief operations were initiated. The customary ‘thank you Indian Army’ placard at the end of the movie is a mere balancing act just like asking Pandits to return is. Even more disgusting is the fact that some Kashmiris allegedly refused to help Hindus and Sikhs during floods in Kashmir saying ‘Modi will help you because you are Hindu, we need to help our own’.
Even that aside, do Bhardwaj’s leftist leanings allow him to make a rapist and murderer like Yasin Malik, a victim and freedom fighter? Or even an Asiya Andrabi or Bitta Karate for that matter. Or does Bhardwaj agree with what is every leftist’s favourite conspiracy theory that the plan to resettle Kashmiri Pandits in valley is a Zionist plan with Mossad backing, something that Syed Ali Shah Geelani has said on more than one occasion? The facts in the case of Kashmir are not highlighted here because the usual culprits brush them under the carpet or cover them up zealously so that their narrative is maintained.
There are stories of the real Kashmir perhaps the most serious of artists, filmmakers and writers cannot tell or maybe do not want to tell. They will not tell you that Kashmiris indulge in everything from drugs to pornography to prostitution, but will defend the intolerant diktats of separatists, Grand Mufti and their ilk. Vishal Bhardwaj perhaps does not know the real story of a young Muslim Army Officer from Pune stationed in Kashmir who while offering prayers at the local mosque was invited to a gathering by the local maulvi and was asked to choose for himself from a bevy of underage girls they had lined up for him. That proud patriotic officer later had to evacuate those girls to safety and bomb the entire shelter where the maulvi and his sidekicks were partying in an un-Islamic manner.
Or perhaps that of a Tamil liberal documentary filmmaker-activist who while shooting in a remote area of Kashmir collected funds for the village head to purchase a van for medical emergencies and later came to know that the money had been embezzled by the same folks who were feigning victimization and friendliness. When the filmmaker asked too many questions, he was threatened to leave Kashmir and never return again.
The modern day English speaking, Azadi-loving Kashmiri is someone who studies in elitist Delhi Universities and SOAS, works as an editor in mainstream Indian publications, still has his/her own home in Kashmir apart from the home of the Pandits that he has acquired, wants freedom for Palestine and Kashmir, gets almost 130 times more (taxpayer) money from India than a poor farmer from Naxal-ridden Bihar, but still badmouths India.
Deep down, some of them know the day Kashmir is resolved as an issue, all those special doles stop, they shall be rendered insignificant. Therefore, the cauldron must be kept boiling. If someone thinks that this account is a fantasy, investigate who paid Syed Ali Shah Geelani’s medical bills in AIIMS Delhi while the ordinary migrant Pandit in Jammu was battling snakebites, sunstrokes and other severe ailments without any assistance from anyone.
Should one want to know the state of how the Azaadi lovers are doing, visit the Taj Hotel in Srinagar on a weekend night and find out first hand. Compare this with the plight of the Kashmiri Pandits in Jagti Camp in Jammu and take notes and then decide the truth. While it is true that the Indian Government, both centre and state, of varied secular hues was mostly apathetic to the cause of Kashmiri Pandits, it is imperative to add that this encouraged the militants and their associates. And it is not just Hindus but Sikhs and Christians too have borne the brunt of Islamist violence in Kashmir. A Kashmir which the Islamists want wholly for themselves cannot and will not remain a paradise by any means. If that was not enough, the separatists have been making poor Kashmiri Muslims beg in various cities of India by telling them to masquerade as Kashmiri Pandits and ask for alms. I carry ample proof of this personally.
But what is Bhardwaj’s object of attention? His heart bleeds for those who disappeared but not for school teacher Girija Tiku who was raped by her own students, neighbours and colleagues and was later sawn alive. The artist in Bhardwaj might not have the spine to stand for Sarwanand Kaul ‘Premi’, the 80 year old Kashmiri poet who along with his son was kidnapped, their eyes gouged out and later their bodies found hanging with nails hammered in their forehead. If not even that, then surely, Vishal Bhardwaj can introspect and answer as to why did the Communist Party Leader the late Harkishan Singh Surjeet, a secular man who was aghast over 1984 riots, commented on the Pandit Exodus by saying “Aisi baatein toh chalti rehti hain“!
Lest we forget, Bhardwaj was also a signatory to a petition against PM Narendra Modi. It should interest Bhardwaj that unlike Gujarat 2002, there has not been a single chargesheet or arrest or any action against the perpetrators of 1989-90. The same people who were never prosecuted are his heroes and the victims of his story. The same people of their own volition, crossed the border, took to guns, raped, killed, assaulted, and maimed innocent people. They never faced a trial and were even provided monetary relief under the Appeasement Policy by the government after showing them as ‘reformed’.
That these people were on camera years later for other films directed by left-liberals like Sanjay Kak’s ‘Jashn-e-Azadi’ and Ashwin Kumar’s ‘Inshallah Football’ only to be rechristened as innocent victims and misguided youth is surely the most abject scenario of humiliation through irony. It is almost as if Kashmiri Pandits never existed and their killers were victims from day one. It will not perhaps be too difficult to imagine that years and months from now, some jehadi training outfits will be showing Haider to indoctrinate children to make them avenge their honour and ‘Kashmiriyat’ from the Indian State. In that perverse sense of appeal, Vishal Bhardwaj stands vindicated at the altar of true leftism.
But wait, it is also interesting to note that other than the “if I’m not a leftist, I’m not an artist” kitschy sentimentalism, Vishal Bhardwaj’s interview in ‘The Hindu’ reveals something else which startling: “it is like I have been told that your films don’t make 100 crores because your cinematic vision doesn’t appeal to the popular taste. And I say is janam mein hi 100 crore bana ke dikhayenge.”…..“I don’t care about the audience…Why should I? The audience hasn’t given me anything. I have been appreciated by the intellectuals, the critics and the connoisseurs of cinema. And it is because of them what I am. I don’t follow the popular taste. I want to hold out the hand. It’s up to them whether they want to hold it or not. I don’t make something that I won’t be able to own publicly.”
So there you go, a leftist has love for the capitalist milestone of a 100 crore grosser and in doing so he is willing to insult his audience by dividing them into masses and classes. In Marxist terms, this would be akin to siding with the bourgeoisie and not the proletariat, thus making Bhardwaj somewhat of a renegade and a non-believer. But then there is ample evidence in history that doublespeak has always been the most perfect skill set of the Left. I infer Bhardwaj is not a very faithful leftist considering the aforementioned statements. Therefore it is quite natural to assume that he is not an honest artist as well.
There have been ample evidences in history when Pandits, the original victims of Kashmir, have been insulted and abused. In 1947, my maternal grandfather who along with his family migrated from the village to the main Srinagar city after the infamous tribal raid heard the “Qabail ho aaye, Qabail ho aaye; Aseiy ne parvaiye; Qabail ho aaye” [ The raiders are here, The raiders are here: What do we have to fear?; the raiders are here] from fellow Kashmiris. Years passed, and abuses turned into stone pelting when India won matches against Pakistan. One fine day in 1989 the abuses were accompanied with “Yahan kya chalega, Nizam–e–Mustafa, La Sharqiya; La Garbiya, Islamia, Islamia” [ What will work here? The rule of Mustafa; No eastern, no western, only Islamic, only Islamic ], “Zalzala aaya hai kufr ke maidaan mein, Lo mujahid aa gaye maidaan mein” [An earthquake has occurred in the realm of the infidels, The mujahids have come out to fight] ,”Ae Kaafiron, Ae Zaalimon, Kashmir hamara chhod do“, “Dil mein rakho Allah ka khauf aur Haath mein Kalashnikov“.
Almost two decades later, as recent as 2010, when a few Pandit girls returned to the valley to take up jobs offered by the State Government, the insults were laden with sarcasm “Battye gayeiy taapas, koeriy suzukh waapas” [Them Pandits have chosen to stay in the sweltering heat of the sun, and they have sent their daughters back in the shade! ]. Backhanded insults have been hurled at Pandits since long and still are, only the form and medium changes.
However, insults on celluloid are a new one and it needs to be said that Vishal Bhardwaj has been highly innovative. For that and that alone, he deserves an applause. Anybody with a little love and knowledge of literature can adapt Shakespeare, and turn it into magic on celluloid. However, it takes a special degree of ideologically bent talent and heartlessness to recreate Kashmir like Bhardwaj has. As an aside, imagining that Bhardwaj’s Hamlet was a Kashmiri Hindu in a parallel world, perhaps he would have uttered
“For who would bear the whips and scorns of time,
The oppressor’s wrong, the proud man’s contumely,
The pangs of despised love, the law’s delay,
The insolence of office and the spurns….”
The response would be the same: Haider tells the amused Kashmiris in that infamous monologue scene “Hamarey saath chutzpah hua hai“.
[Storified tweets about specific incidents mentioned in this article are available here.]