A ‘Lamhaa’ Wasted

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A still from the film.

A still from the film.

Lamhaa may not be just another jingoistic approach of telling the Kashmir tale, but the untold story of Kashmir remains untold throughout the film. Shams Irfan reviews.

Not so long ago, debutant director Rahul Dholakia vowed to shun prejudices before stepping behind the cameras. He did succeed and dared to tell the truth about the ghosts of Gujrat riots and its real victims in a highly acclaimed film titled Parzania (2007). But till the time he was ready with his second offering, Lamhaa: The untold story of Kashmir, he seems to have lost appetite for truth.

Thus starts an unheard, factually incoherent story of Kashmir that has nothing new to offer, expect disappointment!

Interestingly, timing could not have been better for Dholakia to make his ‘untold’ version of truth public as the valley is on fire once again after a brief lull. But he has failed to live up to his past reputation while dealing with the sensitive issue of Kashmir. His version of truth or the untold one, as the films catch-line claims, is least likely to find any takers on the either side of the fault-lines.

However, one cannot completely write off Lamhaa as just another jingoistic approach to the already over-exploited Kashmir issue, but it is the script that leaves much to be desired; it is as confusing as the catch-line itself.

Well, before we move any further with the scripting blunders of Lamhaa or what has been missed out by Rahul Dholakia during his extensive research on Kashmir. Let us take a look at the story itself and then try to find out the highly publicised ‘untold’ part.

Lamhaa starts with protagonist Vikram [Sanjay Dutt] narrating the events of 1989 that gave rise to the popular sentiment of freedom or Azadi in Kashmir. Here Dholakia quickly tries to sum-up the whole issue in a couple of frames: killing of Mirwaiz, women wielding AK47 rifles, nocturnal raids, Kashmiri Pundits being driven out of their houses by Muslim neighbours while the voice-over says “And nobody tried to stop them”, young boys [barely eight or nine]shouting pro-freedom slogans while separatist leader Haji [Anupam Kher], promises them next-Friday prayers at Rawalpindi. With this Dholakia almost sets the stage for an eye-opener tall-all tale of Kashmir which you hope will give you some insight about this long festering wound between India and Pakistan.

And for an instant, maybe out of excitement, you begin to think that something serious is about to come your way in the following frames.

But the excitement is short lived as the highly stylised Bollywood drama starts to unfold. And you can’t help but wish for things to get better. They never do.

Coming back to the story which is set in 2009, Vikram, a Military Intelligence officer, is sent to Kashmir on a highly confidential mission to unveil the mystery behind Lashkar’s plan to disrupt the not-so-normal life in the valley. He works undercover as Gul Jehangir, and even manages to move around the highly secured areas like commissioner’s office to collect confidential information without anybody interrupting our James Bond style protagonist. In the meanwhile Vikram also manages to team-up with one of the Haji’s prot?g? Aziza [an active member of women’s outfit [Khatoon-e-Millat], to save Kashmir from witnessing 1989 style catastrophe again.

In the meantime, ex-militant Aatif [Kunal Kapoor] wants to contest elections to bring change for his people, unlike his ex-mentor Haji who believes in bullets and not ballot for any change in the system.

Thus the story unfolds where these four characters: Vikram, Haji, Aziza and Aatif criss-cross each other trying hard to make sense out of Dholakia’s weak screenplay. What really complicates Lamhaa for an ordinary Bollywood audience is that it touches so many issues at the same time that the central theme loses its importance, altogether. A number of sub-plots consisting of small characters like Peer Baba [Mahesh Mangrekar] or Badi Bi [Jyoti Dogra] remain unexplained till the end.

Out of frustration he starts shooting arrows blindly in all possible directions without knowing where they will land.

He blames dirty politicians on both sides of the border for getting benefited from a profit making ‘company’ called Kashmir. He points his fingers towards every single separatist present in Kashmir for cashing in on the aspirations of the common people. Not only that, he blames them [the separatists]for being party to now infamous sex-scandal which shock the valley in 2006. To create a balance and keep his narrative different from other clich?d Bollywood [Kashmir] movies, Dholakia blames Indian Army and Kashmir Police too for their role in enforced disappearances and working hand in glove with brokers who sell innocent Kashmiri blood for a hand full of cash. He talks about half-widows of Dardpur village and their unending search for their loved ones across the jails of India. He talks about the mass-exodus of Kashmiri Pandits and the indifference of the majority Muslim community to their plight.

To overcome his shortcomings as a filmmaker, Dholakia looks westwards for inspiration and for some scenes and sequences too. Bipasha Basu’s public humiliation scene is a frame-by-frame copy of Monica Bellucci’s Malena (2000), though one cannot deny Bipasha credit for copying it well. The idea of showing young boys being used as human bombs is lifted from Kathryn Bigelow’s Hurt Locker (2009) and also an IED recovery scene is taken from the same movie. But Dholakia seems to have forgotten [maybe in a hurry]to check facts before using these sequences in Lamhaa that no kid was ever used as human bomb in Kashmir. He surely mixed up happening in Iraq with Kashmir!

The climax itself fails to match up with the initial build-up that leads us to a very predictable and irrelevant end. Something that makes officer Vikram’s running around the streets of downtown Srinagar, in Rambo style shades, laughable.

And when you come to know that the big ISI plot that Dholakia has kept as surprise element through-out was nothing but a bombing plan to disrupt Aatif’s rally in Jammu, you feel cheated by the director. And while walking out of the theatre you still try to figure out the untold story of Kashmir. Which in-fact remains untold forever!

Lamhaa fails to go beyond a few thrilling moments and a picturesque background filled by Dal Lake and snow clad mountains. It fails to simplify the mystery of Kashmir issue for ordinary non-Kashmiri viewers who are still living with prejudices promoted by Indian media.

Dholakia missed a very beautiful opportunity to catch this fleeting Lamhaa [moment]on celluloid, and to present the world with the true story of this beautiful but disputed piece of land called Kasheer!

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