Somjyoti Mridha | DUJES Volume 27 | 2019 Issue

Interrogating the idea of India: A Study of Cinematic Representations of Kashmir Conflict from Bollywood and Beyond

Somjyoti Mridha teaches at the Department of English, North Eastern Hill University, Shillong. He has recently submitted his doctoral thesis at the Centre for English Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, on “Representing Kashmir Conflict post 1990s: The Poetics and the Politics of Nation, Identity and Violence”. His areas of interest are Indian English Literature, Translated Bhasa Literatures, Ideas of Nation and Nationalism and Postcolonial Studies.

The conceptualization and creation of the singular political entity called India from the multitudinous and disparate elements comprising many regions, religions, races, castes, languages that constitute modern Indian nation state continues to be an uphill task for our political as well as our intellectual fraternity. This profusion of differences coalesced to form a singular nation state primarily, on the basis of certain core principles that guide its existence. Despite innumerable problems and lacunas in various spheres, the Indian nation state remains united though not politically unchallenged. Fissiparous secessionist/ethno-nationalist movements in Kashmir and the North-east as well as Maoist movement in the tribal belts of central India have erupted since independence trying to tear asunder the very fabric of the Indian nation state. This paper is primarily concerned with the politics of representation of Kashmir conflict in Indian cinematic narratives from Bollywood as well as from Kashmir. By delving deep into the representational politics of Kashmir conflict, this paper tries to arrive at an understanding of the ideology and the power structure embedded within the ‘regimes of representation’. The primary objective of the paper is to interrogate and simultaneously arrive at an understanding of the ideas governing the Indian nation state and its praxis in the day to day reality of Kashmir through its representation in cinematic narratives. This paper takes into consideration the political potential embedded within these cinematic narratives which are produced and disseminated in conditions of profound inequities existent in the realms of politics and culture.
            Keywords: Cinema, Representation, Kashmir.

For all its magnificent antiquity and historical depth, contemporary India is unequivocally a creation of the modern world. The fundamental agencies and ideas of modernity—European colonial expansion, the state, nationalism, democracy, economic development—all have shaped it. The possibility that India could be united into a single political community is the wager of India’s modern, educated, urban elite, whose intellectual horizons were extended by these modern ideas and whose sphere of action was expanded by these modern agencies. It was a wager on an idea: the idea of India. This nationalist elite itself had no clear definition of this idea…that brought India to independence was its capacity to entertain diverse, often contending visions of India.
                                                                      --Sunil Khilnani (The Idea of India 5)

The practices of representation always implicate the positions from which we speak or write- the positions of enunciation. What recent theories of enunciation suggest is that, though, we speak, so to say ‘in our own name’, of ourselves and from our own experience, nevertheless who speaks, and the subject who is spoken of, are never exactly in the same place. Identity is not as transparent or unproblematic as we think. Perhaps, instead of thinking of identity as an already accomplished historical fact, which the new cinematic discourses then represent, we should think, instead, of identity as a ‘production’, which is never complete, always in process, and always constituted within, not outside, representation.
                                                                                                               --Stuart Hall[i]

The conceptualization and creation of the singular political entity called India from the multitudinous and disparate elements comprising many regions, religions, races, castes, languages that constitute modern Indian nation state continues to be an uphill task for our political as well as our intellectual fraternity. This profusion of differences coalesced to form a singular nation state primarily, on the basis of certain core principles that guide its existence. Despite innumerable problems and lacunas in various spheres, the Indian nation state remains united though not politically unchallenged. Fissiparous secessionist/ethno-nationalist movements in Kashmir and the North-east as well as Maoist movement in the tribal belts of central India have erupted since independence trying to tear asunder the very fabric of the Indian nation state. This paper is primarily concerned with the politics of representation of Kashmir conflict in Indian cinematic narratives from Bollywood as well as from Kashmir. By delving deep into the representational politics of Kashmir conflict, this paper tries to arrive at an understanding of the ideology and the power structure embedded within the ‘regimes of representation’. The primary objective of the paper is to interrogate and simultaneously arrive at an understanding of the ideas governing the Indian nation state and its praxis in the day to day reality of Kashmir through its representation in cinematic narratives. This paper takes into consideration the political potential embedded within these cinematic narratives which are produced and disseminated in conditions of profound inequities existent in the realms of politics and culture.

The Idea(s) of India 

Long before the formation of the nation state, Indian intellectuals and politicians have engaged with the idea of India. Almost all significant nationalist leaders have written his or her perception about India. The tradition of writing about India goes back to Raja Ram Mohan Roy, the multi-lingual, liberal humanist intellectual from Bengal.[ii]  In the absence of any concrete basis to form a singular political entity coupled with the heterogeneity of the putative nation, it became imperative for Indian politicians to create a discourse of “Nation-ness”. Since the late nineteenth century, the onset of nationalist movement in its various forms necessitated this superimposed discourse of a singular “nation” with its origins in the hoary past. Historical linkages were necessary to establish some kind of solidarity with the colonized people from the far flung British Empire in the sub-continent. Tremendous intellectual energy was spent on the project of “imagining” India and constructing a self-image of the nation. The most influential among them is Jawaharlal Nehru’s The Discovery of India (1946) which makes a survey of Indian history from the Indus valley civilization to the British Raj. Even after the formation of the nation state in 1947, India continues to engage its citizens from all walks of life from politicians like Sashi Tharoor, bureaucrats like Pavan K. Verma, industrialists like Nanadan Nilekani, journalists like P. Sainath and many others, all of whom have written about India and the ideas central to its existence and efflorescence as a vibrant democracy.
The primary ideas governing the Indian nation state are enunciated in the Preamble to the Constitution. It describes India as a sovereign, socialist, secular, democratic, republic which shall strive to deliver justice, liberty and equality to the citizens while fostering fraternity among various segments of population. These supposedly core political principles gave concrete shape to the idea of the Indian nation. The guiding principles of the Indian nation state are indeed lofty yet the political reality in India is far from ideal. These ideas were debated at great lengths in our constituent assembly for about four years from 1946 to 1950 till the constitution took effect. These lofty ideals were adopted primarily due to historical contingencies of creating a nation state from the debris of the far flung British Indian Empire. The sheer heterogeneity of the constituent units in terms of regions, religions, castes, linguistic affiliations made any project of unification, a daunting political wager. Hence, it was a political necessity to incorporate various ideals in order to create a civic community of citizens out of this heterogeneous populace. Yet, nation states are not formed with political ideals but through historically determined circumstances and realpolitik. As eminent scholar Sunil Khilnani writes,
The founding idea of India was never simply a commitment to abstract values or ideas—of pluralism or democracy—but was rooted in a practical understanding of the compulsions and the constraints of Indian politics. Indians…are not virtuous, moderate, principled or even especially tolerant people: they are deeply self-interested. But it is that self interest- so apparent in the conduct of the political elite—which encourages them to make compromises and accommodations. (Khilnani xiii)
The challenges to the Indian nation state have surfaced both in terms of conflicting ideas vying for supremacy within the paradigm of the nation state as well as fissiparous political dissidence trying to tear asunder the very fabric of the nation state. Economic and food crisis and all pervasive poverty were some of the initial challenges to the nascent nation state. Since the 1990’s economic liberalization has brought about unprecedented inequality among the different social classes and regional disparity. The rise of the political ideology of Hindutva in electoral politics threatens the idea of cultural and religious plurality and secular credentials of the Indian state. Similarly, fissiparous insurgent movements are being waged against the Indian nation state in Kashmir and North-eastern regions. But the state which sought to control all spheres of life since its inception and tried to truly become the “Mai-baap” sarkar must take a share of the responsibility.
The state which declared Justice, Liberty and Equality as its guiding principles, literally invaded the princely state of Hyderabad, the Portuguese colony of Goa within a decade of it existence. The state also slammed AFSPA (Armed Forces Special Powers Act) in 1958 on the Naga people clamouring against the injustice of annexation. [iii] The draconian AFSPA continues to exist stifling any vestiges of civil liberties in the whole of North-East and Kashmir. The grim reality of economic deprivation of the Dalits across the country and the tribals in Central India reminds us that the state has failed to provide equal economic opportunities to the economically marginal. While the Central government spends millions to propagate “Unity in Diversity” of “Mile sur Mera Tumhara, toh sur bane Hamara” brand, the national tune is far from becoming ‘ours’. Communal strife and caste atrocities are the order of the day with occasional clashes between people of different linguistic communities. In fact it proves Perry Anderson’s remark that, “All liberal democracies are significantly less liberal, and considerably less democratic, than they fancy themselves to be” (Anderson 109).

India and Kashmir       

Politically speaking, the state of Jammu and Kashmir is a constituent part of the Indian nation state. Yet, unlike other parts of India, the state of Jammu and Kashmir has a dubious history of incorporation within the Indian state. Unlike most of the princely states who willingly choosing either of the nation states of India and Pakistan, Maharaja Hari Singh of Jammu and Kashmir decided to remain independent. Pakistan made an attempt to invade Kashmir in the thin disguise of a tribal raid popularly known as Kabaili invasion of 1948. Maharaja Hari Singh signed the instrument of accession to India in these volatile times in order to garner Indian military help. There is a lot of secrecy as well as ambiguity about the document of the Instrument of Accession but this accession formally made the state of Jammu and Kashmir, a constituent part of the Indian Union. The Indian government agreed to have a plebiscite in order to honour the political will of the Kashmiri populace after the invasion has been thwarted. Many concessions were allowed for the state of Jammu and Kashmir, like a separate constitution, Article 370, which guaranteed considerable autonomy for the state and the title of Prime minister for the chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir in order to placate the Kashmiri leaders and populace but the much promised plebiscite was never held. In the subsequent decades, political interference of New Delhi significantly worsened its relationship with Kashmir and various efforts directed at wooing disgruntled Kashmiris, especially central dole labeled as ‘economic packages’ produced no significant political dividends.
                It is generally believed that the popular Kashmiri leader, Sheikh Abdullah was in agreement with the Maharaja over accession to India though Abdullah’s subsequent political career bears ambiguous testimony to the fact. Abdullah’s dilly-dally with India, Pakistan and other foreign powers alternately made him the Prime Minister of Kashmir as well as a prisoner in India. There was simmering discontent among the Kashmiris over New Delhi’s interference about the local politics in Kashmir. The unfulfilled promise of a plebiscite in Kashmir with respect to accession and gradual erosion of autonomy guaranteed by Article 370 tarnished the image of Indian state in the Kashmiri imagination. Though political situation never got out of control till 1989 when Kashmir valley witnessed a full scale armed rebellion against the Indian state. In a knee jerk reaction to the rebellion, the Indian state responded with massive militarization and slammed AFSPA leading to complete abolition of any civic rights in the Kashmir valley. While armed resistance or militancy (depending on which side of the geographical/political border one belongs to) has ebbed, Kashmir valley still continues to be heavily militarized and AFSPA is in full force since the 1990’s.

Nation and Cinema: The Case of India

The political category of Nation has been famously defined by Benedict Anderson as “an imagined political community – and imagined as both inherently limited and sovereign” (Anderson 6). Theorising nationalism and creation of nation states, Anderson selected certain socio-historical phenomena which are primarily responsible for the advent of national consciousness; among them, advent of print capitalism and imperialism has been the foremost. Most theoreticians of nationalism have stressed on the importance of the arts especially the efflorescence of imaginative literature as a conducive factor for the development of nationalism consciousness. Scholars of nationalism greatly privilege the advent and efflorescence of the genre of Novel as the most suitable literary vehicle for nationalism. Some scholars like Anthony D. Smith incorporates various other artistic medium in formation of national consciousness,
Nationalists, intent on celebrating or commemorating the nation, are drawn to the dramatic and creative possibilities of the artistic media and genres in painting, sculpture, architecture, music, opera, ballet and film, as well in the arts and crafts. Through these genres nationalist artists may, directly or evocatively, ‘reconstruct’ the sights, sounds and images of the nation in all its concrete specificity and with the ‘archeological’ verisimilitude (Smith 92).
Films entered the cultural firmament of the Euro-American world during late nineteenth century. It was quickly disseminated thereafter to the colonized territories of the European nations like India. The connection between films and spread of nationalism is anachronistic in the context of the Euro-American world but in the context of India, films played a crucial role. Feature films definitely validates nation as a politically aesthetisized space through its visual presentation and have been a primary medium of reinvigorating the appeal of nationalism and reiterating the virtues of nationness since its advent and subsequent popularity. The advent of feature films coincides with the efflorescence of nationalism and anti-colonial struggles in most parts of Asia and Africa.
In India, films came as early as 1896, when the Lumiere Brothers screened a few short films at the swanky Watson Hotel in Mumbai to a select British audience. Some of the films screened were Arrival of a Train at a Station, Workers leaving the Lumiere Factory at Lyon etc. Subsequently, these films were shown to Indian audiences in Bombay, Calcutta and Madras. These moving images created quite a stir among the audience. Films caught the Indian imagination and pioneering figures like Harishchandra Sakharam Bhatavdekar, Hiralal Sen, Dhundiraj Govind Saheb (popularly known as Dadasaheb Phalke) started making their own films which ushered in the silent era of Indian films. The three great colonial urban centers of Bombay, Calcutta and Madras became sites of film production in India. Dhundiraj Govind Phalke is regarded as the father of Indian cinema since he made the first full length Indian feature film, Raja Harishchandra in 1913.[iv] In fact, a lot of films in Hindi, Bengali, Marathi and Tamil language were made before India achieved freedom. Hindu mythology became the staple subject of films. Ancient and contemporary literature also provided the films with popular and ready scripts. Bombay emerged as the most prominent among the film making centers in India attracting both investment and talent from all over India including Calcutta and Madras.
While cinema never received proper state patronage like that of literature in various languages or the Classical arts, it always served the cause of the nation state since independence. This conscious move to placate the state was primarily due to massive popular appeal of the nation state in the fifties and sixties which the cinema industry wanted to capitalize. The movie industry was also eager to receive state recognition in the form of awards. The strict rules of censorship and skewed structure of revenue generation puts the film makers at a disadvantageous position vis-à-vis other artistic professions and the state. Nevertheless, films made across the nation have been performing the role of according cultural legitimacy to the nation state in most instances. Popular Hindi movie industry based in Mumbai has been at the fore front of celebrating and aestheticizing the national space and national life. During the fifties and the sixties, Bollywood primarily aestheticized the rural Indian life celebrating agrarian labour and the scenic beauty of Indian villages, consciously erasing any mention of caste system or communal sentiments. The nation was celebrated in movies like Mother India (1957) where the nation is metonymically represented as a nurturing mother or in songs like “Yeh Desh hai Veer Jawanon Ka” from Naya Daur (1957), “Mere Desh Ki dharti Ugle Sona Heera Moti” from Upkar (1967), “Hai Preet Jahan Ki reet Sada” from the movie Purab aur Paschim (1970). The success of Mother India illustrates the perks of showcasing an aestheticised rural, agrarian nation. The film received two National Film awards in 1957 and became India’s first submission for the Academy awards for Best Foreign Language Film. It also bagged a lot of Filmfare Awards for 1958.
In most Bollywood movies, celebration of nationalism and the nation, which for all practical purposes extend to the state, took the form of aestheticization of diversity or showcasing national unity and secular values despite the presence of vivid differences. National identity was privileged over any assertion of regional or religious differences in these movies. The social world portrayed in most Bollywood movies have been primarily Hindu though camouflaged as secular and respecting differences. There was a conscious attempt at attenuating religious or regional differences present within the precincts of the much lauded and occasionally apotheosized “Desh Ki Dharti” while accentuating differences with other nation states, usually, Pakistan (portrayed as visibly Islamic and conservative) but occasionally China, USA and the UK according to the demands of the plot. Bollywood movies across the decades have remained primarily silent about the caste system or communal disharmony. There are notable exceptions like Achhut Kanya (1936) or Aarakshan (2011) which portrays the predicament of underprivileged Dalit communities or Parzania (2007) which portrayed communal tension and state apathy in vivid details. Bollywood caters to a large section of the Indian populace across regions. There is a tendency to erase the points of conflict among different sections of the population in order to maintain and enhance its popularity across caste/class/religious and regional barriers. The resultant outcome is the portrayal of a superficial sort of national bonhomie propagated by the Central Government of India for obvious political reasons.

Popular Indian Movies and Kashmir in the 1960’s

Bollywood’s search for a scenic landscape is linked with its fascination for song and dance sequence celebrating the romance between the hero and heroine. Kashmir provided the much needed scenic landscape within the country since the sixties. Popularity of Kashmir as a scenic shooting location began with Shammi Kapoor and Saira Banu starrer  Junglee (1961) directed by Subodh Mukherjee. It was quickly followed by Shammi Kapoor and Sharmila Tagore starrer Kashmir Ki Kali (1964) directed by Shakti Samanta, Shashi kapoor and Nanda starrer Jab Jab Phool Khile (1965) dicrected by Suraj Prakash and Rajendra Kumar and Sadhana starrer Arzoo (1965) directed by Ramanand Sagar and many others. I have highlighted four movies here which have a significant portion of the plot set in Kashmir though Kashmir primarily remains a scenic landscape for the efflorescence of romance between the hero and heroine. The movies could be decoded with a certain formula where at least one character comes to Kashmir for tourism and falls in love with a local resident and finally marries after a few superficial complication of the plot. In most movies, the local resident is the heroine which is crucial considering the hierarchical nature of gender relations in the sub-continent. The beautiful heroine becomes a symbol of embodied beauty of the Kashmir Valley. The dialogue between the romantically inclined individuals reiteratively refers to the incredible beauty of the vales of Kashmir. For example in Kashmir Ki Kali, Champa exclaims, “Kitni Khoobsuraat Vadi Hai” which is accompanied by the visual aid of a long shot at the beautiful vales and almost superimposed omnipresence of flowers in and around the valley. The beauty of the Valley is conflated with the Kashmiri girl who is usually portrayed as the “Phoolwali” as in Kashmir Ki Kali or a connoisseur of flowers as in Junglee. Flowers seem to have double entendre showcasing both the virginal innocence of the heroine and the incredible beauty of the landscape. It is usually the metropolitan wealthy non-Kashmiri Indian man who wins her in the course of the movie almost symbolizing the political relation between India and the Kashmir valley. The movies seem to symbolically suggest that Kashmir valley can be a part of cosmopolitan modernity of the Indian nation state only through continued political allegiance to the Indian nation state. This political message is significant in the context of ambiguous political assimilation of the state of Jammu and Kashmir with the Indian Union. The only notable exception is Jab Jab Phool Khile where the man is from Kashmiri, but later on it is revealed that his origins are from elsewhere, presumably from other parts of India.
In fact, the visual tropes of Bollywood parallel the political ideology of the Indian ruling elite. The visual tropes of all the Bollywood movies from the 1960’s seems to reflect Jawaharlal Nehru’s depiction of Kashmir in his book of collected writings, The unity of India,
Like some supremely beautiful woman, whose beauty is almost impersonal and above human desire, such is Kashmir in all its feminine beauty of river, valley and lake and graceful trees…I watched this ever changing spectacle, and sometimes the sheer loveliness of it was over powering and I felt almost faint. As I gazed at it, it seemed to me dream-like and unreal like the hopes and desires that feel us and so seldom find fulfillment. It was like the face of the beloved that one sees in a dream but that fades away on awakening (Nehru 223).
Feminization of the Kashmiri landscape is ideologically equivalent to the feminization of the colonized territories by the West-European colonial administrators in their personal or official writings about the colonies during the nineteenth century. In the light of subsequent history of New Delhi’s interference and domination of Kashmiri politics since Indian independence in 1947, it is apt to surmise that the cinematic representation seems to ideologically conform to the hegemonic political aims of the Indian nation state over Kashmir valley. The overarching ideology of the movies behind the all too romantic and innocent pleasures of love and flirtation between two unequal (in terms of social class, education and mobility) but consenting adults seems to allegorically symbolize the political relations between the insular, underdeveloped and poverty stricken Kashmir valley and the ever munificent and politically dominant Indian nation state.
Another very striking feature of Bollywood representation of Kashmir is that characters from Kashmir are invariably portrayed as Hindus. Even characters wearing ethnic Kashmiri Muslim dress has somewhat North-Indian Hindu names like Champa in Kashmir Ki Kali, Raj Kumari in Junglee or Raja in Jab Jab Phool Khile.[v] The Hindu population of Kashmir valley comprises of the miniscule Kashmiri Pandit community (only 2 to 3%) of the population before the exodus of 1990’s. Representing Kashmir as a land inhabited by Hindus, these movies seem to project Kashmir as a natural part of the notionally secular but culturally and politically Hindu nation state of India. In a not so significant moment in Arzoo, the Kashmiri houseboat owner cum tour guide, Mangloo takes Gopal to Shankaracharya Temple in Srinagar. The presence of ancient temple within the valley naturalises Kashmir as an integral part of Hindu India trying to obliterate the political history of Kashmir valley. On the contrary, there is no mention of any of the Islamic monuments like the seventeenth century Hazratbal shrine in Srinagar in any of the movies from the 1960’s. Characters visit places of exceptional natural beauty, like the Gulmarg snow fields, Char Chinar in Dal lake, takes Shikara ride wearing ethnic Kashmiri Muslim dress but they never visit any mosque as part of their tour. In Jab Jab Phool Khile religious differences between Raja and Rita are never broached in the course of the movie, even when Raja is trying to fit into the upscale Hindu social circuit of Bombay based Rita. The movie primarily focuses on the differential class position of the two romantically inclined, consenting but unequal adults on their way to establish conjugal relationship. The fact that Raja is a Muslim would have formed the primary social hurdle in any Indian social set-up among two paramours trying to socially sanctify their conjugal love. By subtle maneuvering of the plot and crucial elision of facts, the movie tends to pay lip service to the notion of secularism propagated with much fanfare but seldom followed by the Indian polity. In fact, the movies actually never mention religion thereby eliding the crucial socio-political fact that the state of Jammu and Kashmir is the only Muslim majority state in the Indian Union.
There is a subtle politics of national acculturation through crucial dialogues embedded in the movies where Kashmiris willingly acknowledge their Indian nationhood. In Jab Jab Phool Khile, when Rita wishes to educated Raja, he rejects English language on grounds of the dissolution of the British Raj from the sub-continent, but willingly embraces Hindi, the official language of the Indian state. The movie bypasses the fact that the state of Jammu and Kashmir is the only state in India which embraced Urdu as the official language of the state. As a Kashmiri Muslim, Raja’s natural linguistic choice should have been Urdu. The movie also bypasses the Urdu-Hindi debate raging in other parts of the country triggered by Pakistan’s adoption of Urdu as the state language. In Arzoo, the Kashmiri houseboat owner refers to Nehru’s death with grief which is equally shared by the Delhi based Gopal. Arzoo was released in 1965, a year after Jawaharlal Nehru’s demise which could have been a great cause of national mourning in most parts of India. But, in Kashmir, the political situation was quite different. The optimism shared by common Kashmiris in 1947 about their inclusion in the Indian Union eroded with the imprisonment of Sheikh Abdullah in 1953. But what is crucial about the year 1965 in the context of Kashmiri history is that the expressions of ‘Sadar-i-Riyasat’ and ‘Prime Minister’ were dropped and Jammu and Kashmir like any other state in India got Governors and Chief Ministers. The Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir was previously referred to as Prime Minister of Jammu and Kashmir. This political move was regarded as an erosion of autonomy and privilege by the political fraternity in Kashmir and these sentiments were shared by the Kashmiri populace. The visual representation of a common Kashmiris mourning for Nehru is somewhat superimposed and represents allegiance of the Kashmiris to the ruling elite of the Indian state. These subtle erasures and crucial inclusions take us back to the second epigraph of the paper. If identities are produced through cultural representation then Bollywood movies of the 1960’s generates a Kashmiri identity which is amenable to India’s political interests thoroughly eliding the fissiparous political aspirations of the valley.

Popular Indian Movies and Kashmir post 1990’s

There emerges a paradigm shift in the tropes of representing Kashmir in Indian popular movies post 1990’s. Similar to the political fraternity in New Delhi, the glitterati in Mumbai were taken aback by the velocity and intensity of the armed resistance of 1990’s in Kashmir valley. Cinematic representation shifted their focus from the “Khoobsurat Vadiyaan” and “Kalis” of Kashmir to the nitty-gritty’s of an armed resistance directed against ‘Mother India’. The popularity of Kashmir soared as a scenic location among the Indian movie makers since the sixties yet they never engaged with the simmering discontent among the local populace until the onset of armed resistance in the 1990’s. While the “Haseen Vadiya” was still there, now they are infested with “Atankvadis” and became the backdrop of blood curdling anti-state criminal activities like terrorism and abduction. For the first time, Bollywood movies started portraying politicized Kashmiri Muslims voicing their desire for greater autonomy or independence from India, albeit in a seamier light. The conflict ridden Kashmir Valley was represented for the first time in a Tamil movie, Roja (1992) directed by Mani Ratnam. Roja ushers in a new era of cinematic representation of Kashmir juxtaposing the fabled beauty of the valley with that of violent anti-state activities. Bollywood began its engagement with Kashmir with Hritikh Roshan starrer Mission Kashmir (2000) directed by Vidhu Vinod Chopra. It was followed by Yahaan (2005) directed by Shoojit Sircar, Lamhaa: The Untold Story of Kashmir (2010) directed by Rahul Dholakia and the most recent Haider (2014) directed by Vishal Bharadwaj.
Movies dealing with Kashmir post 1990’s are invariably a celebration of Indian nationalism and the efficiency and magnanimity of the India state. All the movies mentioned above except Haider, uncritically celebrate the role of the Indian state in Kashmir, thoroughly abstaining from any mention of military high-handedness and the promulgation of exceptional laws like that of AFSPA which accorded unprecedented impunity to the security forces. Apparently, these movies seem to propagate the much reiterated view that all the actions undertaken by the state were primarily for the “security” of the people. In fact words like ‘security’ in Roja or ‘Hefajaat’ in Yahaan are repeatedly cited as the reason for massive army presence in the valley. Yahaan portrays a Kashmiri Muslim man, father of a young Kashmiri girl, acknowledging the fact that army personnel are deployed in Kashmir valley for their protection. Most state officials, invariably Hindu, except the character of Inayat Khan in Mission Kashmir, are portrayed as saviours of both the nation and local Kashmiris. On the contrary, most Kashmiri nationalists/secessionists are shown as fundamentalist Islamic mujahedeen with ideological and military base in Pakistan surmised as a cradle of fundamentalist Islamic jihad. Almost all the movies blame Pakistan for the armed resistance in Kashmir thereby purging the Indian nation and government of any responsibility for the political debacle in Kashmir. One notable exception is Haider. The earlier brand of nationalism visualized and propagated by Bollywood was through aestheticization and celebration of the diversity of Indian culture and communal bonhomie within a bucolic and scenic rural set-up. Post 1990’s, movies dealing with Kashmir celebrate nationalism in the form of nationalist/military jingoism. It also includes representing military action against an intransigent populace in the context of Kashmir.  Victorious army actions have become the rallying point of cinematic nationalistic fervor with reiterative declaration of Kashmir as an integral part of India in most movies.
The federal structure of the Indian Union and paternalistic relation of the Central government with the constituent units is symbolically represented by the cinematic device of adoption. In Mission Kashmir, Inayat Khan, a secular Kashmiri IPS officer adopts Altaaf, a Kashmiri Muslim orphan. In Yahaan, communal and national bonhomie is beautifully projected through a series of adoption in the film. Sri, a Kashmiri Pandit girl, another orphan, has been adopted by Adaa’s family portraying communal harmony or remnants of Kashmiriyat in the Valley.  And in the final shot of Yahaan, we see Amaan, wearing Indian army uniform walks towards the camera guiding both Adaa and Sri symbolizing domestic harmony as well as metonymically representing harmony of the Indian nation state with both the Pandits and Muslims of Kashmir. Their relative heights with Amaan, the representative of the Indian state as the tallest, seems to project the power relations embedded within both the federal structure of the Indian Union as well as majority/minority divide in Indian politics and society. As a representative of the Indian state, the role of Vikram Sabarwal as the savior of both Aziza and Aatif, budding pro-India Kashmiri politicians in Lamhaa is equally symptomatic of similar power structures. Aatif’s patronizing attitude towards the Kashmiri Pandit community in the refugee camps of Jammu is reminiscent of Adaa and her family’s attitude towards Sri in Yahaan. 
One of the striking features of the post-90’s cinematic representation of Kashmir is its association of Islam. While the erstwhile Bollywood movies were self-consciously trying to erase Islam from Kashmir valley with a near total absence of any Kashmiri apart from the beautiful maiden/lad of the vale and the tour guide, these movies portrays the all-pervasive presence of Kashmiris and their association with Islamic rituals and monuments. All these movies portray Kashmir as the fertile ground of Jihadi forces and anti-India activities. The representation of Kashmir as an Islamic space is visually validated with reiterative presence of bearded Muslim men, Kashmiri/Pakistani/Afghani, alternately shown as offering namaz publicly at a mosque or privately inside their homes and wielding the Kalashnikov. Hazratbal Shrine and the Jama Masjid of Srinagar have iconic presence in Mission Kashmir and Lamhaa and are repeatedly shown in the course of these movies.  Images of anti-state violence perpetrated by these men in the form of bomb explosions as in Mission Kashmir or abduction of state officials as in Roja or holding innocent hostages as in Yahaan seem to equate violence and anti-Indian activities and sentiments with Islam (Ananya Jahanara Kabir). In contrast to the anti-national Muslim terrorists, the state officials working on behalf of the India nation, mostly army men like Vikram in Lamhaa and Amaan in Yahaan or an engineer like Rishi  working for the army in Roja are all visibly Hindu and portrayed as saviours. Tejaswini Niranjana’s analysis of Roja remains valid for all the three above mentioned movies, “…the Kashmiri militants always appear in clothes marked as ethnically Muslim; their ethnicity reveals them as anti-modern (therefore anti-national or anti-Indian), intolerant and fundamentalist, while the Hindu ethnicity as displayed by the chief protagonists is merely part of the complexity of being Indian…[their] work, directly related to the security of the country, is presented as truly nationalist; and, interestingly, his nationalism is not anti-western but (although never stated) is anti Muslim” (Niranjana 79). Such sentiments are common in the Indian public sphere primarily dominated by the Hindu majority population, especially after the rise of Hindutva as a potent force in Indian electoral politics since the 1990’s. In fact they seem to indicate “Kashmiriyat’s putative destruction, with the added implication that it is the Kashmiri as Muslim who, left to his own devices, is up to the usual mischief” (Kabir 21). In fact the movies tend to conflate issues of Islamic fundamentalism and Kashmiri desire for independence or autonomy, thereby, visually reiterating the classic south-Asian religio-political divide, obliquely evoking memories of partition at the founding moment of the Indian nation state.
There is a near total absence of any member of the Kashmiri Pandit community in these movies except in dialogues between characters as the unsuspecting victim of the armed resistance. Interestingly, all the movies refer to the Pandit exodus of the 1990’s. The victimization of Kashmiri Pandit community and their exodus from the valley has become a convenient issue to be exploited to delegitimize Kashmiri resistance. Pandering to the popular perceptions of the Indian populace, Indian movies share and reiterate the official narrative of the Indian government, conveniently washing their hands off any responsibility. In fact, it also erases the support of Kashmiri Pandit intellectuals like Sanjay Kak, Suvir Kaul, Nandita Haskar and Nitasha Kaul towards the movement for freedom in Kashmir and their vehement criticism of atrocities perpetrated by the Indian security forces in the valley.[vi]

Kashmiri Movies

As opposed to Bollywood movies, Kashmiri film makers began cinematically representing their own version of the reality in Kashmir as late as the last decade. While documentaries like Jashn-e-Azadi directed by Sanjay Kak have become very famous, this paper is primarily focusing on films like Zero Bridge (2008) directed by Tariq Tapa, Harud (2010) directed by Aamir Bashir, and Ziyarat (2011) directed by Suresh K Goswami. To distinguish Indian and Kashmiri movies is geo-politically unviable since Kashmir continues to be a part of India in spite of varied forms of political dissidence. The categorization followed in the paper is viable when the inherent ideology of these movies is taken into consideration. Haider complicates the categorization followed in this paper since its screenplay has been written jointly by the Kashmiri author, Basharat Peer and Vishal Bharadwaj. Tahaan (2008) directed by Santosh Sivan also complicates the categorization primarily because of the perspective focussed in the film. Ziyarat remains an abortive attempt at promoting Kashmiriyat in an amateurish narrative while Zero Bridge is primarily about the unsuccessful attempts by a socially underprivileged Kashmiri youth at various occupation and love. The troubled political condition of the valley remains in the backdrop without being properly exploited within the cinematic narratives in Ziyarat and Zero Bridge. The Kashmiri attempt at self representation achieves fruition in Harud.
Harud captures the existential realities of everyday Kashmir plagued with massive militarization and the disciplining technologies of the Indian state. Rafiq’s impotent rage at the omnipresence of military and feeling of emasculation is symptomatic of common Kashmiri sentiments. Harud revisits and reinterprets some of the popular tropes of Bollywood movies within the cinematic narratives. Rafiq’s urge to learn photography coupled with his discomfiture as the object of photography can be interpreted as the Kashmiri angst at self-representation and anxiety about Indian representation of Kashmir. In a profoundly existential moment when Rafiq tries to capture a snap at the Dal Lake, he observes a Shikara full of armed personnel being rowed by a Kashmiri boat man. Through this shot Bashir talks back to Bollyood representations which have reiteratively represented the Shikara ride as part of the amorous exercise from Kashmir ki Kali to recent movies like Mission Kashmir and Yahaan. Instead of pondering over issues of national integration and global networks of terrorism which are primary concerns in Indian popular movies, Kashmiri movies primarily depict characters trying to eke out a precarious existence in an economically and politically stifling zone of conflict.
Haider and Tahaan, both the movies focus on the existential realities of common Kashmiris in a heavily militarized conflict zone. The all pervasive presence of the Indian armed forces and its mechanism of surveillance like crackdowns and check posts have been repeatedly shown in the course of both the movies. Tahaan poignantly represents the loss of innocence in the context of economically crippled and socially turbulent Kashmiri society. Tahaan becomes the easy target of the militants who tries to exploit his infancy in order to perpetrate violence against the Indian armed forces. Both the movies puts forward the message of abjuring violence as a form of resistance to the Indian state machinery which may be interpreted as supporting status-quo in the context of the Kashmir but there is a severe critique of the high-handedness of the Indian military establishment and corruption of the state machinery.
The dilemmas of Rafiq and his friends who are torn between the choice of becoming militants or escape to other parts of India exposes the lack of economic opportunities in the valley. Dilawar’s struggle in Zero Bridge to get a suitable employment vindicates similar situation. Dilawar finally decides to relocate to Delhi with his beloved. Kashmiri movies also complicate the dichotomy created by Indian popular movies between good Kashmiris Muslims with allegiance to India and bad Kashmiri Muslim engaged in Pakistan supported militancy in the valley conflating with the good Muslim/bad Muslim dyad employed as a trope for representing Muslims in India.

Indian Representation vis-à-vis Self Representation

Ananya Jahanara Kabir’s formulation that “Indian representations of the valley perpetuate three sorts of violence—the violence of the founding moment, the violence of legitimizing authority, and the violence of maintaining authority, Kashmiri counter-representations complicate this violence” (Kabir 22) yet we cannot neglect the intricacies and subversive potential of visual medium which speaks in spite of the auteur’s intension. Despite Bollywood’s tireless efforts at presenting Kashmir through the “dominant regimes of representation” within the Indian context, the cinematic narratives obliquely refers to the other side of the story. While most of the Indian movies on Kashmir tend to hinge on the budding and efflorescence of a romantic relationship within the context of the troubled but beautiful valley of Kashmir, all-pervasive presence of Indian military ruptures the innocence embedded in the  discourse of inclusion and integration. Repetitive depiction of armed personnel and armoured vehicles and demands for Identity cards from Kashmiris in public places within the valley disengages these cinematic narratives from popular notions of democracy and civil rights in India. It brings forth “the question of power, to the lines of force and consent” (Hall 76). There is a trend of progressively critical representation of the Kashmir issue in Indian popular movies, evolving from an absent presence in the sixties to the Roja-like all too simple good Indian/bad terrorist binary and finally a full-fledged criticism of the Indian state and its administrative and military paraphernalia in Haider. The “diffuse, deferred, and not necessarily entailed”[vii] political potential of popular cinematic narratives surface through the apparently innocuous question of Roja about the presence of armed personnel in the empty streets of Srinagar, Altaaf’s nightmare of army atrocities in Mission Kashmir,  Shakeel’s informed and sensitive complaints about the massive militarization of the valley in Yahaan, use of slogans like “Azadi” in the election campaign and reference to movement to search for the disappeared Kashmiri men  in Lamhaa and Haider’s onomatopoeic rhyme of AFSPA with the English word of “Chutzpah” also demarcating the only possible way of venting out the pent up frustration of hapless, freedom craving Kashmiris. In fact, Kashmiri self representation in cinematic narratives develops on these themes elaborately with local nuances which are absent in the Indian cinematic narratives. Indian cinematic narratives on Kashmir are embedded within the over-arching dominant narrative of the Indian nation state and popular perceptions of the Indian populace (majorly Hindu) though there are occasional bouts of liberalism and dissonance within the narrative. The Kashmiri movies are more about Kashmir than about political relations between the Indian Union and the state of Jammu and Kashmir.


Movies dealing on Kashmir broach questions of power, consent and legitimacy in the domains of national and regional politics and its subsequent impact in cultural representation. Dominant and popular regimes of representation like that of Bollywood creates images of relatively powerless society and culture like that of Kashmir in the self-image of the majority Hindu community amenable to its political, social and national interests thereby obliterating dissonance and dissidence from cultural representation. Kashmiri cinematic narratives strive for self-representation within the limitation of technical know-how, acting skills and in the absence of any niche market. Their very presence interrogates and challenges the dominant images of cultural representation of Kashmir, its inhabitants and their political aspirations delegitimising  the over-arching ideologies of the Indian political and cultural regimes.


[i] This quotation has been taken from Stuart Hall’s essay, “Cultural Identity and Cinematic Representation”.
[ii]  Raja Ram Mohan Roy was most probably the first among Indian intellectuals to articulate about a singular India in his essay, “India—Its Boundary and History”. This essay was reproduced in a volume titled Nineteenth Century Indian English Prose: A Selection, edited by Mohan Ramanan and published by Sahitya Akademi, 2004.
[iii] AFSPA was enacted in 1958 and special powers were accorded to the army personnel posted in so called “disturbed” areas of the North-eastern parts of India comprising of Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland and Tripura. This act was introduced in Kashmir as a response to the armed resistance to the Indian nation state during the 1990’s and remains effective in the valley till date. It provides complete immunity to the armed forces from any judicial action on any grounds whatsoever. Such immunity has accelerated the count of army atrocities in Kashmir over the years. The most notable fact remains that even after almost seventy years of robust existence, Indian nation-state remains perpetually insecure about its existence in the north-east, Kashmir, the tribal belts of central India and hence the continuation of AFSPA which is periodically renewed and extended to more territories within India.
[iii]There are certain doubts regarding the first feature film made in India. Scholars like Sumita Chakravarty have cited the example of R.G. Torney’s Pundalik as the first indigenously produced feature film (Chakravarty 34). But Phalke is widely considered to be the pioneer both by the Indian state and in the popular imagination. In an influential article published in The Guardian titled “The Birth of India’s film History: How the movies came to Mumbai?” , Pamela Hutchinson cites Hiralal Sen and a few others who could have possibly made a feature fim before Phalke but never got archived or documented. <>
[iii] Jab Jab Phool Khile is the only exception where the male protagonist is from Kashmir. There are other minor Muslims characters in these movies, like Mangloo in Arzoo. Some characters are portrayed wearing the Kashmiri Muslim dress but their religious identity is never stated clearly.
[iii]  While Kashmiri Pandits are mostly hostile towards the Kashmiri movement for Azadi on account of the atrocities perpetrated by organizations like Hizbul Mujhaedeen and Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) on the community, several non-resident Kashmiri Pandit scholars like Sanjay Kak, Suvir Kaul and Nitasha Kaul have expressed solidarity of varying degrees with the movement and criticized the atrocities perpetrated by the armed forces in the valley. Sanjay Kak’s documentary Jashn-e-Azadi has been a watershed moment in the history of visually representing the conflict situation in Kashmir. Suvir Kaul has recently published a book titled Of Gardens and Graves, published by Three Essays Collective in 2015.  Some essays definitely express solidarity with the movement. Nitasha Kauls’s novel Residue (2014) also vehemently criticizes army atrocities in the valley.
[iii] In the last chapter of his book Understanding Popular Culture titled, “Politics” John Fiske theorizes about the political potential of popular culture. According to him, popular culture may not be political in terms of direct social repercussions but are imbued with politics in a subterranean way. Thus, while talking of Indian popular movies dealing with Kashmir, I have applied this theory since Bollywood shows a more critically nuanced portrayal of Kashmir issue with time. Even in the plot line of romance and national bonhomie there are moments of critical engagements with the political issue. The phrases quoted in the paper are from page no. 131.

Works Cited
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