Saquib Salim/New Delhi
Cinema, like any other art form, is not immune to the social, political, and economic realities of the time and space it is produced in. The evolution of Indian cinema coincides with the Indian freedom struggle and thus was deeply influenced by the different political currents during the 1930s and 40s. After independence, cinema was extensively used as a platform to propagate social and political ideas. In Tamil Nadu, C.N Annadurai, Sivaji Ganesan, and Karunanidhi effectively used cinema to propagate the self-respect movement and politics attached to it. Raj Kapoor, in Mumbai, was employing the art of filmmaking to disseminate socialist and communist ideals while Dilip Kumar was a Nehruvian film star. Over the period, social realities have changed and messages carried by cinema have also evolved. In Manoj Kumar, we have seen constructive patriotism while Sunny Deol led the aggressive nationalism of his time. But one important national issue, which otherwise defined India’s foreign and defense policies since independence, remains largely missing from the Indian cinema. The illegal armed intervention of Pakistan into Kashmir has led to wars between India and Pakistan, yet the issue is rarely raised in films.
There are films, romanticizing the valley as paradise on earth, or war between the two nations but rarely do these films look into cross-border terrorism and local response to these designs. It is high time to revisit Johar in Kashmir, a 1966 movie, written, produced, directed, and starred by I.S Johar. The movie should inspire present filmmakers to produce more such movies with a message of humanity without compromising national integrity.
The movie opens with an allegorical scene, where a Sikh man is listening to an account of the Indo-Pak war and two street goons, with their gangs, were fighting in Srinagar. Aslam (I.S Johar) and Ahmad (Manmohan) were two local goons fighting over their area of influence. Aslam, who is the protagonist of the movie, tells Ahmad before the fight, Hathyar to tumhe qismat ne de diye hain, magar himmat khuda ne nahi di (Destiny has armed you with arms but bravery has not been granted by God). It is a symbolic comment on Pakistani intruders entering Kashmir, carrying modern arms. Soon, both the gangs fight till a European man stops the fight saying that Desis cannot live in peace. He draws a line between the two gangs and asks them to divide the area of influence accordingly. There cannot be a better cinematic depiction of what the British empire and later western powers have done with the subcontinent. They stereotyped us as violent people, divided us, and formalized the feud forever. The uselessness of the line of control immediately becomes evident when Salma (Sonia Sahni) enters and walks exactly over the line, leaving both the men fighting over the territory to which she belongs.
The movie moves on to the next scene where Salma confronts Aslam. She dares his masculinity and questions his bravery, by asking how can he call himself valorous when the ‘raiders’ from across the border are raping Kashmiri women and killing children. The scolding has a positive effect and Aslam joins the paramilitary force to fight the raiders. His mother, who till now admonished Aslam, accepts him as a patriot. The neighbourhood also approves this transformation. People are shown as hating each nefarious design of Pakistan. Meanwhile, Aslam and Salma get engaged.
On the other side of the border, in Pakistan occupied Kashmir (PoK), Maula Khan (Kamal Kapoor) is leading a gang of raiders to Kashmir. His father happened to be the paternal uncle of Aslam. In an interesting heated argument between Maula’s parents, his mother tells his father that men want wars, women give birth and they cannot think of killing but men know only fighting. Men, in her view, fight at home with wives, and at the border with nations. She asks, why should her son be sent to fight in India? Nevertheless, Maula and his gang cross the border, killing four Sufis and wearing their clothes. These ‘raiders’ are agitated at the fact that they have been deceived by their recruiters.
Kashmiris, they were told, will welcome them as liberators but they found themselves to be hated as murderers. Maula and his three associates enter Salma’s house as Sufis and take her home hostage. She is harassed, beaten, made to dance by threatening that her parents and brother can be killed.
Meanwhile, every Kashmiri invokes Islam as a guiding principle to resist the Pakistani design. The ‘raiders’ are compared to Yazid, a tyrant who killed the grandson of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). Maula and his men kill Salma’s family and Aslam’s mother, kidnap her and flee back to PoK where they sell her to a pimp. Aslam on hearing the news crosses the border in the guise of a Godman and captures Maula. He produces them in front of the public in PoK to ask if they, intruders, represent the common people of PoK? People denounce Maula and start stoning them for causing deaths in Kashmir. Does Aslam ask if Pakistan is a flagbearer of Islam and Indian Muslims are any less Islamic? He asks how can they kill Kashmiri Muslims in the name of Islam?
Like most Indian movies, the film uses songs and music to great effect. Rather, the songs were penned by Indeevar, composed by Kalyanji-Anandji and sung by Mohd. Rafi conveyed the message more strongly than dialogues. Song, Kashmir hai Bharat ka kashmir na denge (We won’t give away Kashmir, it’s part of India) depicts the mood of the film well. The song declares,
Hathiyaron se kar sakta nahi dil pe tu qabza, taaqat se bada desh ki khidamat ka hai jazba
(You can’t occupy heart with arms, patriotism is mightier than armed strength)
In another song, picturized in PoK, Aslam asks the invocation of Islam and Jihad for shedding the blood of innocents in Kashmir. It says,
Nahi kaafi hai musalmaan hona, bas nahi haafiz-e-Quraan hona
Allah-taala ka pyar paane ko, laazmi hai tera insaan hona
(It is not enough to be a Muslim or to memorize Quran
To receive love of Allah one should be a good human first)
Nek niyat ko tu armaan kar le, aadmiyat ko tu imaan kar le
Yahi Islam ki nasihat hai, apne dil ko bhi Musalmaan kar le
(Strive for good intentions, adopt humanity as faith
This is teaching of Islam, so make your heart a Muslim)
The movie, in my view, should be appreciated and watched for putting humanity and nation first without demonizing people living in PoK. The message is loud and clear that neither do terrorists represent common people nor they are representatives of Islam. The movie made me think, “they don’t make such cinema anymore”.
(Saquib Salim is a Writer and a Historian)