Raabta: Needs Rewiring

There’s a scene in the beginning of Raabta in which Saira, played by Kriti Sanon, stands in front of a mirror and speaks to her dead parents. The first thought I had was ‘Mirror of Erised from Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone‘.

The story revolves around how an Indian chocolatier in Budapest who falls for a fellow countryman who happens to be a banker. Now it is this falling for that is weird. First up, Sushant Singh Rajput’s character Shiv is not a romantic, he is a pervert and a stalker. He is obsessed with women and goes out of his way to ‘get’ them. This guy, like all other Bollywood stalkers, hasn’t heard of the word ‘consent’. What is worse is that the female protagonist, instead of being repelled by his behaviour in the 21st century, falls for him. This after the guy shamelessly hijacks her date with her boyfriend and sends the latter home with a girl he brought along. Time Bollywood got rid of its love for stalking and made something that showed these people as they are: creepy.

Anyway, they fall in love and stuff. Saira is haunted by the death of her parents and meets a seer or something of that sort. The seer predicts the arrival of another man in her life. Enter Jim Sarbh as Zakir ‘Zack’ Merchant, a charming, demented and slightly psychotic liquor baron who wishes to get with Saira because of some punar janam nonsense.

The film has some rather obvious problems:

  • The script by Siddharth-Garima is haphazardly written and terribly clichéd. All the main characters are rather unbelievable. There are no real reasons as to why an audience should believe that Shiv and Saira are meant to be together.
  • A beautiful song from Sriram Raghavan’s Saif Ali Khan-starrer Agent Vinod (shot beautifully in AV by DoP C. Muraleedharan) is destroyed mercilessly.
  • The background score by Sachin-Jigar is loud and irritating
  • The punar janam saga is underdeveloped and lifted in pieces from the likes of 300 and Game of Thrones.
  • And don’t even get me started on Prime Focus’ extremely shabby VFX. Outlandishly bad is all I have to say for the work they’ve done. Forget complex sequences, they’ve not even done basic background compositing right.
  • Rajkummar Rao, weighed down by god knows how much makeup, was wasted in his role. Shameful use of the abilities of one of Hindi cinema’s finest actors today.

Despite the numerous drawbacks, there are also some positives:

  • The music is decent, except for that Sadda Move song or whatever it was. The credits song, Main Tera Boyfriend, is senseless yet enjoyable, kind of like Kar Gayi Chull from 2016. The title track is not good at all but Pritam and Jam8 make up with Lambiyaan Si Judaiyaan, Darasal and Ikk Vaari Aa.
  • Varun Sharma of Fukrey fame is in a caricatured role as the protagonist’s sidekick but manages to draw a few laughs.
  • Kriti Sanon wins some of the scenes with her co-stars, especially a scene with Sarbh wherein she is told why he is so obsessed with her. She has great screen presence and her chemistry with the other two is very good. In fact, it is better with Sarbh than with Rajput, simply because they aren’t expected to look great together.
  • Sushant Singh Rajput manages to keep the token Bollywood stalker creepiness out of his character and is reasonably good, though a tad bit over-the-top in a few scenes. It was like he was trying to channel his inner Ranveer Singh, who’d rather stay in the closet than come out.
  • Jim Sarbh is easily the best of the lot. Though he is still miles away from pulling off a Khalil, he does his job rather well, considering the circumstances. He gets a rather underwritten character but plays it with such control that you may just forget that the writers did a poor job with the writing. He is charming, menacing and ‘psycho’ (as Kriti puts it in one scene), all rolled together. He also nails the physicality of the character. Watch out for one scene in which he dances around a room with a dress in his hands.
  • Martin Preiss does a beautiful job as the Director of Photography. He captures Budapest gorgeously and does a fair job with the Mauritius sequences.

The film is, at the end of the day, the directorial debut of a successful producer. The last time a successful producer turned director, he made the atrocious Kick with Bhai. Dinesh Vijan, the man who put his money on films like Being Cyrus, Hindi Medium, Love Aaj Kal, Badlapur, Go Goa Gone and Happy Ending is the man with the hat on for Raabta. Frankly, with his CV, he should’ve picked a better script. His direction is fairly okay, but he doesn’t exhibit any flair for it. It would’ve been much better had the film stuck to a contemporary storyline instead of going all Asoka meets 300 meets Game of Thrones meets bad VFX on the audience.

As a film, Raabta tries too hard to be a confluence of a lot of things rather than be a solid film based along one or two paths. It’s all over the place. A fantastic example of an interesting premise being screwed up and over for no rhyme or reason. Not a film worth watching more than once, which is still better than Ae Dil.. and Fitoor, both of which I wish I’d not watched at all.

Raabta: 2.5/5

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Varun Oak-Bhakay’s Writer’s Block

June 9th, 2017

 

A Death In The Gunj: Achieves Remarkable Heights

I first saw the trailer of actor-turned-writer/director Konkona Sen Sharma’s A Death In The Gunj in September ’16, days before it premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival. The English-language Indian drama caught my attention precisely because it was an Indian film by an Indian director in English, of which there are few.

With a nine-(wo)man ensemble plus a Labrador puppy, the film’s biggest strength was obviously going to be its performers. The question was who would be the best?

The year is 1979. Twenty-three-year-old Shyamal, also known as Shutu, goes to his maternal aunt and uncle’s home in McCluskieganj. With him are his cousin (the aunt and uncle’s son) Nandu, Nandu’s wife Bonnie, their eight-year-old Tani and Bonnie’s friend Mimi. They are soon joined by two of Nandu’s friends: the newly-married macho man Vikramjit and the level-headed Anglo-Indian Brian.

Shutu is reserved and introverted, which makes him the butt of many a joke. He is bullied by the others and often made to feel insignificant. The main instigator of the bullying is Vikramjit, who is ever-ready to prove his masculinity and to make others feel small. Shutu’s sole companion is his niece Tani. One night, once the oldies and the kid are asleep, the others decide to call spirits to their habitat. A well-written and well-paced scene follows and from thereon, the film picks up a little as characters clash, revelations are made and then comes the patiently built-up climax, which is a shock, to say the least.

The film is based on a short story by director Konkona’s dad, Mukul Sharma, which in turn is based on true events that Sharma and his then wife Aparna Sen were witness to. The screenplay, penned by Konkona with Disha Rindani serving as Additional Writer, is detailed and unhurried. It takes its own sweet time to unfold but does so methodically: peeling off layers one by one until it lays bare. The language is a tad too modern for the late 70s and that is one of the drawbacks in the screenplay, another being that a rather important character is not fleshed out well enough. Sagar Desai’s music is apt and easy on the ears, much unlike a lot of the crap one hears these days. There is also a traditional folk song from around the area of McCluskieganj which works rather well in the context of the film. Sirsha Ray’s frames have a light sepia coat but they capture the landscape of McCluskieganj beautifully. The shots are smooth and informative. The costume designer Rohit Chaturvedi dresses the characters appropriately for the period and doesn’t let himself go. Much credit to him and Konkona for not overdressing the cast. Manas Mittal and Aarif Sheikh share editing duties and do a decent job with stitching together the many transitions.

The cast is the second-best thing about ADITG. That Lab puppy is supremely cute and looks untaught, exactly how a young puppy should be. Arya Sharma is delightful as young Tani. She gets the character’s two main qualities: innocently sweet and annoying, absolutely right. Om Puri, in one of his last roles, is disappointing. He bumbles and mumbles through his small part, making one wonder why he is there at all. Tanuja makes up for Puri’s poor performance with a gentle, motherly turn as Anupama Bakshi. She shows the greatest concern for her nephew when he starts acting odd. The veteran beings an enormous amount of grace and elegance to the screen. Need to see much more of this fine actress on screen. Kalki Koechlin is brilliant as always in the role of seductress Mimi. Despite the promiscuous nature of the character, it is not really possible to dislike her, such is the way Kalki plays her. Ranvir Shorey is despicably good as the brash, self-centred and arrogant toerag Vikramjit. This is the guy you are supposed to hate and you do. Kudos to Shorey for pulling off another fine performance despite the rather one-dimensional character. Jim Sarbh, who was terrific as terrorist Khalil in Ram Madhvani’s Neerja is splendid as the most mature of the three grown men. His Brian comes across as a well-mannered, polite man who plays pranks on gullible chaps like Shutu but is also responsible. Tillotama Shome is sensible and real as Bonnie. Gulshan Devaiah’s Nandu is a typical Indian brought up in patriarchy, though he doesn’t fall to greats lows as Vikramjit. From Shaitan to Hunterr to ADITG, Devaiah is an evolving artist, and a damn good one (him and Jim Sarbh can start an evolving actors association). The star of the show is Vikrant Massey, seen earlier in Lootera and Dil Dhadakne Do. As Shutu, he is fantastic. His emotions are real, his loneliness is visible and the pain he brings to Shutu is commendable. Perhaps this year’s best performance, even surpassing Rajkummar’s fabulous act in Trapped. Massey is one heck of an actor and I hope I get to see loads more of him on screen.

Konkona Sen Sharma has always been a fabulous actress. She takes that form into her directorial debut and comes out with flying colours. She is in total control of her film and captains the ship smoothly. The film is grounded in reality and has a nice plot going for it. But all of this could’ve fallen apart under a less able director than Konkona. Another thing that worked for the film is that it reminded me of the numerous Ruskin Bond stories I’ve read, so it was a little like an unconscious nostalgia trip.

While it would’ve been just as good as a horror film or a thriller, ADITG works beautifully in the coming-of-age genre as well, the centre of attention being Shutu. It shows us what constant bullying can do to a person and how a person becomes after a massive personal upheaval. Add to that loneliness and a lack of contact with the opposite gender and you have a difficult person to deal with. It shows us how blind we can be to another person’s plight, no matter how close we are to them. It also makes a feminist statement about how some women have been willing to fight for a fair deal for a long time. In a scene where something goes wrong and Nandu needlessly blames Bonnie for the situation, she retaliates fearlessly, showing him his place as was needed. A fine moment!

Thank you, Konkona Sen Sharma, for giving me a firm favourite movie of the year (up till now).

Go watch this film. It’s one of a kind and one that sadly may not be in theatres for long!

A Death In The Gunj: 4/5

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PS: Tillotama Shome and Gulshan Devaiah just retweeted my tweet about the film. Just saying. And Konkona Sen Sharma liked my tweet to her about the film.

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Varun Oak-Bhakay’s Writer’s Block

June 4th, 2017

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Sachin: A Billion Dreams

 24 years. 664 matches. 782 innings. 100 centuries. 164 half-centuries. 34357 runs. 201 wickets. 1 man.

SACHIN RAMESH TENDULKAR 

   The first memory I have of watching Sachin Tendulkar live was during India’s tour of England in 2007. He scored a beautiful 91 in the first innings of the second Test, which India won. I already admired the man since I’d watched dozens of old matches. But that was the first time I saw him bat live.

   I also recall watching his last innings in India flannels. He had scored a fluent 74 at the Wankhede against the Windies before an edge off Narsingh Deonarine ended his innings.

   This review is likely to be partial, since Sachin = One of The Supreme Powers. If you’re a Sachin detractor, I’d advise you to leave since you’re hardly likely to like what I’ve written. But try and stay. Don’t be like me. Be nice.

   Emmy award-nominated director James Erskine comes together with Carnival Motion Pictures and Ravi Bhagchandka to deliver a docudrama on one of India’s two legendary sportsmen, the other being Maj. Dhyan Chand.

   It’s a film different from the two most recent ones made on cricketers. Tony D’Souza’s Azhar was a pure, unadulterated PR exercise by match-fixer Mohd. Azharuddin. It was also one of the shittiest movies I’ve ever watched. Like there’s good movies. Okay movies. Bad movies. Ninety-nine feet of crap and then Azhar, joined by the likes of HumshakalsHimmatwala and Aag. Neeraj Pandey’s MS Dhoni: The Untold Story was a good film, but it white-washed Mahendra Singh Dhoni. The film was more about the performance delivered by Sushant Singh Rajput than anything else. It made one of Indian cricket’s finest captains seem like one of those classroom goody-goodies.

   This film is different. First up, it’s a docudrama. So there’s almost no role play, except for the early years of the man who came to be known as ‘The God of Cricket’. Those early bits show us the prankster, the schoolyard bully, the Arjuna to Ramakant Achrekar’s Drona, the boy who piled up 664 runs in a Harris Shield game with another future Indian cricketer. Along with that, there are narrations by Sachin; his wife Anjali; his mother; his aunt; his siblings Nitin, Savita and of course, Ajit; Sunil Gavaskar; his teammates Ravi Shastri, Sourav Ganguly, Harbhajan Singh, Yuvraj Singh, Zaheer Khan, MS Dhoni and Virat Kohli; his rivals Wasim Akram, Shane Warne, Graeme Swann; legendary commentator Harsha Bhogle; and writers Gideon Haigh and Boria Majumdar.

   There is archival footage from Sachin’s early days in the international arena, including the broken nose incident in Pakistan. There is his maiden hundred at Manchester, his humdinger ODI knock against the Kiwis, his stint as Yorkshire County’s first overseas signing. The film leaves out his first one-day ton, which came close to five years after his debut. That he went on to make another forty-eight of those in seventeen years is a testament to the skill of Sachin.

   The film lacked bite when it covered Sachin’s captaincy post the ’96 World Cup, which culminated for India at Eden Gardens after the team shipped away seven wickets in twenty-two runs, the first of those seven being Sachin, who scored a wonderful 65 and was run out by keeper Romesh Kaluwitharana with the score at 98/1. Vinod Kambli leaving the field in tears is an unforgettable image for fans of Indian cricket – the tears symbolised both the sorrow and the shame of the defeat. The rift with predecessor-successor Azhar is glossed over, though craftily. Azhar’s poor performances were a major reason for India’s failures under Sachin, but the latter wasn’t the world’s greatest captain either. The film didn’t highlight Sachin’s disappointment at missing a double ton at Multan when stand-in captain Rahul Dravid declared the innings with Sachin on 194. This was in contrast to the Sydney Test in January that year, when Dravid had pursued a hundred against the decision of captain Ganguly and the team’s interests, perhaps the sole instance of The Wall pursuing a landmark. The film covered Greg Chappell’s disastrous stint as India’s coach, though Sachin remained mum and it was Bhajji who called the coach a headmaster. The match-fixing saga, which was prominently positioned in the trailer, saw Sachin retain his regular stance on the incident: that he knew nothing and even if he did, he had no concrete evidence.

   The pieces the film missed out on were Sachin’s dream run in the 2007-08 season, when he scored heavily against the Brits, the Pakis and the Aussies. The 100th 100 was also left out, maybe for the better because that was one of Sachin’s poorer tons.

   Despite its shortcomings, I loved the film. It had some heart-warming home videos of Sachin with his parents, with his kids and with his wife. Mrs. Tendulkar’s narration of their courtship and subsequent marriage was….what is that term….yeah, Awwworthy (Yeah, guys can use such words too). The bits about his relationship with his father, Ramesh Tendulkar, were beautiful, and I couldn’t help but admire Sachin for the umpteenth time for his hundred at Bristol in the World Cup, days after his father’s funeral. It was the lesser known side of the man that was the engaging part of the film, though the cricketing journey was a memorable walk down the memory lane. People know him as a world-class cricketer, but the film also shows us the son, the brother, the husband and the father. Footage of Sachin with son Arjun and with his friends was included, and one could see the non-cricketing side of the man. There were also bits of footage from his visits to various institutions, including what seemed like a school for the visually impaired.

   What the film highlighted most effectively was the love people have for Sachin. There has never really been a sportsman as loved in India as Sachin is. Not only was he a fine cricketer, he is also a humble human being. And it is that humbleness of him that endears people to him. Though I do not believe in the concept of there existing a supreme being, this quote of Matthew Hayden’s, in the context of how religious and god-fearing a majority of Indians are, is apt: have seen God. And he bats at No. 4 for India.

   The lion’s share of the credit for the film goes to director James Erskine and producer Ravi Bhagchandka. Erskine’s direction is a lot like Neeraj Pandey’s in MSD, devoid of personal devotion. He lets the emotions free from the other end and keeps his work strictly technical. Bhagchandka, who also served as Creative Producer on the film, does a good job as well, given the vastness of the subject. It is the coordination between Erskine and Bhagchandka that makes the film a finer product. AR Rahman delivers decent music, the best of the tracks being the Sukhwinder-crooned ‘Sachin Sachin’. DoP Chris Openshaw does a fine job with his non-intrusive cameras. Expect a lot of close-ups and static shots.

Watch Sachin: A Billion Dreams. It is more than a film. It is a journey relived, an emotional and joyous experience, and most importantly, a film about one of the greatest cricketers the world will ever see.

Sachin: A Billion Dreams: 4.75/5

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Varun Bhakay

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Varun Bhakay’s Writer’s Block

June 1st, 2017

Images: Google Images and IMDb

Kashmir: A Fiery Vale

I do not claim to know all about Kashmir and its problems. I do, however, have a decent bit of an understanding of the issue, which is why I felt this piece, at this time, would be appropriate.

The Kashmir Conflict – or at least the situation today – has been on for close to thirty years now. Cordon-and-searches, weapons, the Pandits, innocent people, the Army and the CAPF, the wily politicians, the militants and their bosses and of course, the violence-prone protesters.

A couple of days back, a video of a man tied to the bonnet of a jeep in a Quick Reaction Team moving out of an area in Beerwah went viral. It had a polarising effect. Some felt that it was wrong of the Army to use a human shield while moving through an area whereas others felt that this will serve as a deterrent to other stone pelters. I belong in the latter camp.

This nonsense has been going on for too long. Games have been played by all four sides who are party to the issue: the Islamic Republic (de facto Military State) of Pakistan has pumped in weapons and has misguided and trained large numbers of Kashmiri boys in the art Pakistan itself has mastered over the years: terrorism; the Separatists, funded by two governments, have taken pride in inciting people to pick up weapons. They have bribed youngsters and taught them how to throw stones into vehicles. That senile old codger Syed Ali Shah Geelani (who draws pension as a former MLA) has been at the forefront of this, ably assisted by the likes of Asiya Andrabi, surrendered militant/murderer and JKLF honcho Yasin Malik and Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, whose father the late Mirwaiz Maulvi Farooq was perhaps the last prominent Moderate leader in the Valley; the Kashmiri politicians, beginning with Farooq Abdullah, who betrayed his own people by resigning at the very beginning of the militancy due to personal differences with then newly appointed Governor Jagmohan Malhotra, with whom he had had a tiff in the latter’s previous tenure as Governor, and who notoriously rigged the ’87 elections, which are seen as the cause of the situation today. That election was followed Syed Mohammed Yusuf Shah’s imprisonment. Shah crossed over into PoK after being released, adopted the name Sayeed Salahuddeen, and became a part of the Hizbul Mujahideen, which he is the head of today. Abdullah is a chameleon who has switched sides so many times that it is tough to keep track. He panders to the Militants, the Separatists and the Congress in equal measure but has never managed to be a people’s leader. The man is a traitor. He has betrayed his people, left them high and dry when they most needed him. He even got Salahuddeen’s son a seat in a medical college in Kashmir! The Muftis, who have been unable to deal with the militancy but know how to talk. Omar Abdullah, sometimes smart, sometimes silly; and lastly, the Indian Political Leadership. I’m not getting into Congress or BJP here. Everyone has made mistakes, beginning with Nehru, who dragged Kashmir to the UN instead of solving the problem internally. The United Nations Resolution 47 pertaining to Kashmir ordered a plebiscite, which has not been held till date. This is because the plebiscite was subject to Pakistan’s withdrawal from the parts of Kashmir that it occupied, following which India would have to call back majority of the Army and other forces, leaving a skeletal force to control law & order, after which the plebiscite would be held. Nehru, at least where Kashmir was concerned, was indecisive and imprisoned Kashmir’s most-loved leader Sheikh Abdullah when he became vocal about Kashmir’s independence (while the move mayn’t have been incorrect, it put paid to Nehru’s popularity in Kashmir), his inability to work with his Cabinet colleagues (eg: Sardar Patel) and his inability to take decisions in time proved fatal. His daughter Indira Gandhi threw away huge political and military advantages gained in the ’71 war in Simla. She and her political chums gave up thirteen thousand square kilometres of territory and at least 93, 000 PsW (Prisoners of War). At least 54 of our own soldiers were not returned by Pakistan and subsequent governments took no overt action to try and bring them back. Morarji Desai told Zia about the R&AW’s intelligence network in Pakistan and that we knew they were developing weapons of mass destruction in Kahuta. Rajiv Gandhi turned a blind eye towards Kashmir and aided Farooq Abdullah in his mischief of rigging elections. V.P. Singh, one of our more respected PMs was helpless due to the fragility of his government but did his best, given that Rajiv had already conducted his Waterloo by then. It was in his first two months as PM that the Kashmiri Pandits were driven out of there homes in the Valley by the radicals. That was where the major flaw in V.P. Singh’s government lay: the Army and the CAPF were given orders against taking action, and the exodus happened just the way the radicals wanted it. P.V. Narsimha Rao’s tenure saw the recently deceased Gary (G.C.) Saxena, former Secretary of Research (Chief of R&AW) take charge as Governor, which he was till 1993, and again from ’98 to ’03, which is when he reactivated the State Police’s intelligence network. The militancy hit its peak in the mid-90s, transforming into the monster nobody foresaw. The 1996 elections saw Farooq Abdullah return to power. He stayed in the hot seat for the full term of six years. The early years of the twenty-first century brought a new dawn for the state, with militancy having been reduced significantly.  In 2002, Mufti Mohammed Sayeed took charge as CM after the PDP won the elections. Sayeed turned out to be the man who got the Centre to sanction pensions for the families of militants killed in encounters! What a preposterous suggestion! He also interfered with the positive steps taken by the Governor, Lt. Gen. S.K. Sinha (Retd), to improve the Amarnath Yatra. In fact, Sayeed and Gen. Sinha were at constant loggerheads because of Sayeed’s pandering to extremists. In 2005, Sayeed was ousted and Ghulam Nabi Azad became CM. Five years of relative peace followed. In 2010, there was a violent uprising, caused by the notorious Machil fake encounter, which would result, in 2015, in the court-martial and life imprisonment of the six Army officers, NCOs and ORs involved in the murder of three young Kashmiri men. The 2010 unrest resulted in 120 civilian deaths. There was a hue-and-cry over the fact that violent protesters had been fired upon. The fire died out in a few months, only to be reignited by the killing of Hizbul militant commander Burhan Wani in 2016. Protests again. Violence again. The use of pellet guns by the security forces was criticised widely. But who called out the violent agitators? Who called out their flinging of petrol bombs and their sheer audacity of disrupting public order? The Army today is being accused of using a human shield by tying that idiot to the bonnet of a jeep, what about the people who brought five year-old Zohra Zahoor to a protest, which resulted in her getting injured! Of course, one will say that the forces should be disciplined, but they too are human. They have taken shit from boys not old enough to drive a car. And they have had enough, just like the innocent Kashmiris who are stuck in limbo, thanks to politicians and militants.

I am personally not a fan of generalisation. I do not subscribe to the idea at all. Which is why I do not believe that all Kashmiris are violent protestors, just like I don’t believe that all Army and CAPF personnel in the Valley are perpetrators of torture and brutality. There are cases. These are not, by any standard, few in number. There are Kashmiris who believe that kangris and stones and the like are the way of protesting. In the same way, there are personnel who are guilty of excesses, whether it is Machil, or the Kunan Poshpora mass rape, the detention centres which were playgrounds for torture, the massacres at Gawakadal, Bijbehara, Sopore, instances of rape, instances of extra-judicial murder. Have such incidents taken place, perpetrated by certain personnel of the forces? YES! However, and this is a large however, there is the flip side too. One that stone pelters, human rights activists and politicians who have the universe to gain from blaming forces refuse to see. Or don’t know about. The exodus of Kashmiri Pandits. A whole community disappeared, but not overnight. Threatened by radical and extremist groups for quite some time, things reached a head on Jan 19th, 1990. Slogans like “People’s League ka kya hai paigham? Fateh, Azadi aur Islam!”, “Kashmir mein agar rehna hai, Allah-ho-Akbar kehna hai!”, “Dil mein rakho Khuda ka khauf, Haath mein Kalashnikov!” were being chanted. Muslims were threatened to make sure they didn’t shelter Pandits. Men were told to either leave or convert to Islam by the radicals. Those who chose the former were told to leave their wives and other women who were a part of the family behind. Houses of Pandits were marked systematically. People fled to Jammu and subsequently, to cities like Delhi and Bombay. Those who didn’t leave underwent a traumatic experience. Women and children were raped by those monstrous militants, people were gunned down without mercy. Was this not a violation of human rights? Sangrampora, Wandhama, Chapnari, Prankote, the Amarnath Pilgrimage massacre in 2000, Kishtwar, Chalwalkote, Qasim Nagar, Kaluchak, Nadimarg, Teli Katha, Doda……recorded instances of militants having killed innocents. And not surprisingly, these militants not only killed Hindus and Sikhs but also Muslims, the very people they claimed to be protecting. What about the human rights of these people, and of those personnel killed by stone pelters and those tortured by militants?! Militancy has no religion. It understands only one language: the bullet.

Arguably one of India’s more controversial pieces of legislation, the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, or AFSPA, came into being in 1958. It was enforced in Kashmir in 1990. It is enforced in an area that has been declared ‘disturbed’. Basically, it is to be enforced in an area where local police and civil authorities have failed to control law and order or where menaces are too large in number and impact for the authorities to control. A commissioned officer, warrant officer, non-commissioned officer or any other person of equivalent rank in the Armed Forces may fire upon an assembly of people after having given due warning as he may deem necessary if he feels that they are acting against the law and are disrupting the environment of the area. A house can be searched and seized; a person can be stopped, searched and arrested and a vehicle can be stopped, searched and seized; all without a warrant. Supplies and arms from a dump can be seized or destroyed without a warrant. Any person arrested and taken into custody under this Act shall be made present over to the officer in charge of the nearest police station with least possible delay, together with a report of the circumstances occasioning the arrest. Service personnel have legal immunity for their actions. There can be no prosecution, suit or any other legal proceeding against anyone acting under that law. Nor is the government’s judgment on why an area is found to be disturbed subject to judicial review. In 2016, the Supreme Court revoked the protection personnel enjoy from prosecution and said that FIRs need to be filed for every encounter killing. The Centre has taken the issue up with the SC, with AG Mukul Rohatgi stating that the Army has to, in given circumstances, take quick decisions which cannot be dissected later on like an ordinary murder appeal. In other words, the scope of judicial review against active military operations cannot be on the same parameters as in other situations. Therefore, action taken by Army during operations cannot be put to judicial scrutiny. The Centre’s curative petition said, “If an Army personnel remained apprehensive about using force fearing a militant’s death as that could lead to registration of FIR against him, it would be difficult to win the battle against insurgents and militants, who aim to secede territories from India.” While I agree with the AG and the Centre, it has to be made sure that cases of excesses are dealt with as severely as possible, as was the case with Machil. This is a democracy and there has to be accountability. After close to three decades of disappearances, this is the least that is owed to the innocent locals: an explanation from the Centre and the State as to where their loved ones are and as to whether they were militants or not. Excesses need to be evaluated individually and investigated thoroughly. At the same time, stats tell a very different story, one that’ll be hard to swallow for those against the Army in regards to the AFSPA. As of 2010, close to 97% of the cases filed against the Army were found to be false or baseless. All the cases which were found to be true were dealt with by the Army, resulting in the punishment of 104 personnel, including 48 officers.

Coming to the video of that dude tied to the jeep bonnet, a lot of people have lashed out at the Army for using a human shield without knowing the full story. So here it is. Apr 9th, 2017. Personnel of the J&K Police and the Indo-Tibetan Border Police were guarding a polling booth for the by-elections in Beerwah when the booth was attacked by some nine hundred people, armed with not only stones but also with much larger, rock-like objects. Nine versus nine hundred. I’d love to see Omar and all those echoing his sentiments in such a situation. Those protesters had one intention: to prevent polling. The personnel sent out an SOS to a nearby Rashtriya Rifles battalion. A seventeen member-QRT was sent. Three vehicles. The QRT commander decided that opening fire on nine hundred people would trigger violence. Hence, one of the protesters was tied to the front of a jeep and the QRT passed through the area without any untoward incident. So, the question is what would the opposers of this technique have preferred: bullets sprayed through 900 protesters or the lynching of those nine personnel? Only an idiot would think they’d pick the former. As a lot of Indians have proved time and again, personnel of the Services and the security forces are disposable assets until something hurts the butts of those nitwits.

Another point for those who criticise the retaliation by the Army in the Valley: have you heard of Operation Sadbhavna? It is a ‘WHAM’ doctrine. ‘WHAM’ stands for Winning Hearts and Minds. The Army, in 1998, took a call to try and build a rapport with the locals and to bring the insurgency-stricken Valley back on its feet. Let me enlighten those of you who are unaware of this particular goodwill program.

  • Regular health check-ups are conducted in remote areas where civil doctors are not present or small in number, by the Army Medical Corps.
  • Army Goodwill Schools, catering to Kashmiri children, are in place all over the Valley. Attendance of teachers is closely monitored, laboratories are in place, as are playgrounds.
  • Kashmiri kids are offered a chance to visit places and cities around the rest of the country.
  • Bridges have also been constructed and damaged roads been repaired by the Corps of Engineers.
  • Senior citizens too are offered to opportunity of witnessing life outside Kashmir through visits.
  • Schools destroyed by militants have been brought back to normalcy.
  • Vocational courses are offered to citizens so as to train them to be able to work.
  • Community Development Centres have been established in order to improve the living standards of economically backward people and to focus on their immediate well-being. 
  • Rural entrepreneurship is encouraged and unskilled people are provided with jobs in local projects wherever possible.
  • Orphanages have been opened for those children who have lost their parents to the insurgency. Hostels have also been opened to accommodate children from rural areas so that they have access to the closest AGS.
  • Livestock are important to the locals, hence veterinary camps are conducted by the Remount Veterinary Corps. 
  • Computer centres have been started to give people a view of the world outside and to train them in using the machines professionally.
  • Civic amenities have been provided where local authorities have been unable to do the same.
  • Crop management and harvesting techniques have been taught.

There you have it. Understand what the Army (at large) is trying to do for the local population. Understand that they try their best and perform ten times that. Before lashing out, remember how many bids to cut off the Valley from India have been crushed by the men in uniform. Some of them laid down their lives to keep our country safe, so let’s not say that tying an idiotic stone pelter to a jeep is wrong. It is a drastic measure which was needed. And more of it may come. The State Police live under fear that radical locals will harm their families. Think of those families, for they too have human rights. If you still feel the Army and the CAPF and the JKP are in the wrong, I suggest you try doing their job.

The next thing I’d like to say is that not all Kashmiri Muslims are militants or violent protesters or even azaadi demanders. A large number, which our TRP-hungry media will never interview, just want peaceful lives. They know the horrors that people in PoK have been subject to and would rather stay in India. I have seen children running after soldiers to greet them, locals being friendly towards personnel. I know an officer who always had a packet of toffees when out in his vehicle. He’d give the toffees to kids he saw. Understand, before labelling the entire population, that not all of them are funded by Pakistan. They have lost loved ones to this battle. They are extremely grateful for whatever has been done for their benefit. They too have lived under threat from militants. They have braved it all. One lady, a teacher, paid no heed to threats that she stop teaching. She continued to do her job, perhaps fearing what may happen but holding her head high all the same. There are loads of people in the Valley who have shown courage in the face of Kalashnikovs. And none of us sitting from Pathankot to Kanyakumari will ever be able to understand that in its entirety. We cannot even imagine their lives. So let’s not call them all names because of some lunatics.

We reach the conclusion: this sentence will get me into trouble, or at least earn me some grief but I think the situation has worsened under the new regime at the Centre and more importantly, under the PDP-BJP combine in Srinagar (and Jammu). There has been a lot of blusterous talk but apart from the surgical strike in September last year, there has been little overt action. It’s time the Separatists are put in their place. Their funding should be cut off. Their passports should be revoked and in case they seek citizenship abroad, they should be deported. Security must not be given to them. Whatever money is being spent on such Enemies of the State should be diverted towards greater ‘WHAM’ efforts, which should involve the State Police as well. The Hurriyat is not a people’s representative. You cut them, you cut out a lot of crap and get to the actual victims of this madness. Lock the Valley down. Catch and kill. Kill each and every militant who is hiding. Imprison sympathisers. Impose curfew in Srinagar. Get the CAPF and JKP to look after the roads and get the Army to comb through the city. After Srinagar, search Sopore, Baramulla, Kupwara, Shopian…..every major hub. There should be a system in place for all violent protesters. Pick them up and push them off to prisons like Yerawada and Puzhal. Give them everything a regular prisoner is entitled to, just ensure that there are no fellow Kashmiris or Urdu speakers in contact with the guy. Dismiss the State Government, for it is inactive. Governor’s Rule should be imposed. Replace the current incumbent with an apolitical (preferably), recently retired Army officer who has sufficient experience in the Valley and who will take action against mischief. Declare Pakistan a Terror State. Attend a couple of days of Parliament, dear MPs, and just clear the damn bill! Even if it’s just the ruling party which turns up with all its members, the bill will get passage. To hell with talks and summits and handshakes and smiles! Enough is enough. A cat won’t cease to mew unless it has been struck dumb (or is dumb, which Pakistan is not). No MFN status, no art, no mixing at all! Shut down the HC in Islamabad, bring everyone there home. Ask Abdul Basit and his staff to leave. Article 370 should either go or should be amended to permit non-Kashmiris to buy property. Let there be more mixing of cultures and people in the state. We have been offering the other cheek so many times. This Gandhian ideology needs to get lost. We need to attack. We need to fuel the fire in Balochistan, feed much more than we currently are. We’ve given the Dalai Lama a home, surely we can do that for the Baluchis. And if the time comes, if push comes to shove, we need to be ready to hit Pakistan where it hurts. We need to be ruthless enough to shred that country to pieces. All you need is a government with might which is willing to shut up the Reds, the Lutyens’ media (sorry, Mr Goswami, had to) and those Human Rights groups. This is the time. We want to be on the UNSC, we need to show the Americans, the Chinese, our allies Russia, those Frenchpeople and our former rulers that we are more than capable of solving our problems and don’t need a bloody UN resolution. The question we, as a nation, need to ask ourselves is whether we truly believe in our ability to be a superpower. No country ever became one without doing some damage. We can withstand criticism, but we need to act!

Kashmir is a part of India. We will not allow our sovereignty to be questioned. This is the land of Netaji, of Bhagat Singh, of Field Marshal Manekshaw, of Dr. Kalam. We will not let Pakistan wage a war on our territory. Let’s grow some balls (and vaginas) and get cracking.

The purpose of this piece was three-fold: one, to give those who are unaware a bit of a peek into what the Valley has been through; two, to say my bit for two parties: the Army, the CAPF and the JKP, and innocent Kashmiris; and three, to air my views – albeit a little rough and in need of elaboration – on how we resolve the issue.

Varun Bhakay

for

VARUN BHAKAY’S WRITER’S BLOCK

on

17th April, 2017

P.S.: Some of you may have noticed similarities in part of the solution offered by me here with that offered by Maj. Gaurav Arya (Retd) in his piece ‘The Iron In Our Soul‘. This is a coincidence, though I did read Maj. Arya’s article, among quite a few others, before polishing my own.

P.P.S.: I have received all kinds of feedback, mostly through the WhatsApp inboxes of Mamma and Papa. If you can, please leave your views in the ‘Comments’ box below.

 

 

Trapped: Breaks New Ground….A Landmark Film in Hindi Cinema

Phantom Films seem to be making a habit of this….a rather good one, I must say. Each year, this production house puts out a film that breaks new ground, introduces new and engaging concepts. In 2014, their second year in the business, Phantom produced two such films: Queen and Ugly. In 2015, they came out with NH10Hunterr (which showed that a sex comedy need not necessarily be cheap, crass and vulgar) and Masaan. In 2016, it was the drug drama Udta PunjabTrapped is another such film.

The concept is simple. Shaurya is in love with his colleague Noorie, who is about to get married unless they get a place together. He manages to get one after some hassles. The catch: the flat is on one of the top floors of an unoccupied high-rise in Prabhadevi. Whilst on his way to meet Noorie, Shaurya gets locked inside the apartment, the key hanging outside the door. Stuck inside with hardly any food or water and no electricity, Shaurya is forced to improvise. He does a hell of a lot of stuff. He does every imaginable thing except one: give up. In his own words, “Kuch bhi ho jaaye, idhar nahi marna hai.”

The screenplay, penned by Amit Joshi and Hardik Mehta, is the pillar on which this film should stand but ends up needing a stronger push from the actor to straighten up, after which it works just fine. Where it fails is the length. Perhaps a trimming by fifteen-twenty minutes would’ve been good. Where it works is many places. It restricts the romance of Shaurya and Noorie to ten-odd minutes. It’s engaging once the protagonist is trapped. It gives the audience an insider’s view of Shaurya’s frustration, anger, fear and determination. The screenplay taps more into the psychological aspect of things than the physical aspect. The concept is such that you’ll go in thinking you’ve figured out all the plotholes but you haven’t quite, at least not all of them. The music by Alokananda Dasgupta is eerie and haunting, working its way seamlessly into the film. Nitin Baid’s editing is sharp and crisp, though he should have ideally snipped off a bit more of the film. DoP Siddharth Diwan has a tough task and manages it admirably. To restrict your camera angles due to such a small set had to be a daunting task but Diwan carries it out expertly. While the cinematography didn’t make me claustrophobic, it did make me shifty and uncomfortable. The lighting team too have done a fine job of creating a sense of dread in the atmosphere.

Geetanjali Thapa’s cameo is an adequate performance by a talented actress. The film’s biggest pillar is one of the most talented actor among his peers. The man capable of turning out an incredible performance each and every time he appears on screen. Whether it was alongside Aamir Khan, Amit Sadh and Sushant Singh Rajput, or with Manoj Bajpayee, Rajkummar Rao has always been one heck of an actor. He is Shaurya in this movie. Every frame of his performance is brilliant. He is naive, head over heels in love, scared, and determined. The lack of dialogue doesn’t prevent him from going all out in his performance. He portrays Shaurya with such depth and understanding that you can’t help but hope the guy gets out of that wretched apartment.

Vikramaditya Motwane delivers a film that is daring and unique. The fact that the crew and the cast have operated so smoothly has to be credited to the man behind the monitor. Motwane keeps the film clean, devoid of taam-jhaam. He is in total control of a film where so many things could go wrong but somehow don’t.

There have been films with no songs or no stars. But it is highly unlikely that a film will be what Trapped is. It relies not on an item song, not on cleavages and six-packs, not on locations and not on fandom. It relies on its story, its performer and its crew. Never does it pretend to be more than what it is: a well-made film (Dilwale and Varun Dhawan, I’m looking at you. Dilwale=Inception….really?!). Watch Trapped to get a sense of how Hindi cinema is changing and for Rajkummar’s terrific performance.

Trapped: 4/5

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