KARACHI: “There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so,” says Hamlet in the eponymous Shakespearean tragedy, words that seem to hold true for the play’s Indian adaptation Haider. The polarised opinions the film’s Kashmir-centric plot has garnered from Indian audiences have not only impeded its box office standing across the border, but also boded ill for its fate in Pakistan.
Citing the film’s ‘sensitive content’, the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) decided against the release of the film in Pakistan. A CBFC employee told The Express Tribune that Haider’s “controversial topic and propagandist nature” are the reasons for this.
Why Haider wasn’t screened in Pakistan
Given that the film centralises a disputed territory that has long placed Pakistan and India at loggerheads and in the wake of recent skirmishes, the CBFC’s decision could be deemed reasonable. But interestingly, a senior official at the CBFC held that the film’s ban has “nothing to do with the ongoing tension between Pakistan and India.” “Any film that is on a controversial topic, such as the Kashmir issue, will most likely not be released in the country,” he maintained.
Contrarily, Amjad Rasheed, owner of Distribution Club, previously known as IMGC Entertainment, shared why the film wasn’t taken to provincial censor boards for clearance after it was refused certification from CBFC. “We realise the [gravity of the] situation at the Line of Control and if one board has refused to certify the film, then the wise thing to do is not to offer the film at all,” said Rasheed, whose company was set to import Haider in Pakistan.
The contradiction in comments from CBFC and the film’s distributor suggests that the film wasn’t going to be released in Pakistan in the first place. That the delay in bringing Haider to Pakistan could have been an orchestrated move on part of the Distribution Club, which also distributed box-office behemoth Bang Bang and spy-thriller Operation 021.
With Bang Bang’s high commercial quotient and Operation 021’s ‘Shaan’ factor expected to supersede Haider’s intricate narrative, the film would have not generated sufficient collections at the box office had it been released at that time. The distributor’s interest in releasing Haider two weeks late could have dwindled further due to the film being readily available on DVD and played on cable television throughout the Eid season.
“The film is against the ideology of Pakistan,” said the CBFC official. “We have a professional panel of reviewers that assesses films while keeping in mind factors that a layman can’t understand.” He stated that certain Hindi words used in a film may seem harmless to an average audience member, but “can have adverse effects on our culture.”
#BoycottHaider or #Haidertruecinema?
Set in 1995 Srinagar, Haider has been criticised for antagonising the Indian version of events in Kashmir amidst the then raging militancy. Under #BoycottHaider, Indian hyper-nationalists on Twitter have wielded their sledgehammer against the film on the basis of three ‘Ds’. They allege that the film ‘defames’ the Indian army, ‘desecrates’ the Martand Temple in Kashmir, which is depicted as the devil’s den in the song Bismil, and showcases the ‘disillusionment’ of Kashmiris towards India. “#BoycottHaider joins the crowd of elements who instigate kids to throw stones on security forces projecting them as villains of Kashmir,” read a tweet.
The film has been written by Vishal Bhardwaj and novelist Basharat Peer who hails from Kashmir. It borrows from Peer’s memoir Curfewed Night, which narrates his experience of growing up in the conflict-ridden Himalayan state.
In Haider’s review for the Diplomat, a news website, Gautham Ashok wrote, “The genius of this film is how its director Bhardwaj has managed to adapt Hamlet to a whole new setting, and yet as the audience, one wonders if they are watching an entirely new story.” A tweet stated, “Recreating a Shakespeare story is no cake walk and Vishal sir has not disappointed the audiences #Haidertruecinema.”
Notion against Haider: anti-national or anti-rational?
There is no gainsaying that Haider is a political film, Bhardwaj’s ticket to a moral high ground. Having sparked two potent debates in India, one that concerns what constitutes ‘anti-national’ and the other, the distinction between ‘free’ and ‘hate’ speech, the film’s dominant humanistic approach to the Kashmir issue can’t be overlooked.
“The tragic hero of the desi Hamlet is Kashmir, not Shahid Kapoor,” wrote Indian critic Shobhaa De in her review of Haider. She quoted a scene in which Ghazala (Tabu) asks her noble husband, Dr Hilal Meer (Narendra Jha), “Kis taraf hain aap?” when he decides to operate on a militant. He replies saying, “Zindagi ke…” This exchange, De said, “sums up the movie and its message… and redeems the film from being what its accusers are calling it: propagandist and anti-India,” reported the NDTV.
The film also takes a look at India’s controversial Armed Forces Special Powers Act (Afspa), which was brought into law in Jammu and Kashmir in 1991. Shunned by human rights organisations, the measure authorises the Indian army to “fire upon or otherwise use force, even to the causing of death where laws are being violated,” reported the Diplomat. “No criminal prosecution will lie against any person who has taken action under this act,” it stipulates. During his monologue on Afspa, Haider uses the word ‘chutzpah’, which translates as having the audacity to do something outrageous.
Bhardwaj’s interview to the Times of India shows what drove him to depict such controversial issues. “I’m also an Indian, I’m also a patriot and I also love my nation. I won’t do anything that is anti-national, but I will definitely comment on what is anti-human. That is what I have done in the film as well,” he said, reported the paper. In the midst of a plot that lends voice to the plight of Kashmiris, the filmmaker maintains a Gandhian pitch, reported the Hindustan Times. While underlining the negative aspects of the Kashmir cauldron, he delivers a clear message that violence ultimately leads to violence.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 15th, 2014.