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Jab Tak hai Jaan

After decades of persecution by J.P Dutta brigade, Sunny Deol and other salesmen of Indian ultra patriotism, here comes yet another movie starring the lover boy of Indian film industry. The film kicks off with an anti bomb squad trying to diffuse a time bomb which is planted in a motorbike,  parked right in the middle of the street. Scene two –  walks in, rather rides through, the protagonist, Major Samar (Shah Rukh Khan) to diffuse ‘Bomb number 98’.  Barely 10 feet away, the curious looking crowd are desperate to watch the brave army man diffuse the bomb.

Not so smart to stay so close to a place which is about to explode, right? Wrong! Yash Raj Films’ think-tank like to believe it’s pretty normal for people to come out of their homes to catch a glimpse of the supposed hero’s skills even if it ends up in certain death.

The movie is about a vagabond Samar Anand, who comes from a Punjabi background. The poor Punjabi’s mother saves enough money for him to travel to London and make it big. It’s worth mentioning that the Armani clad vagabond has no education and works menial jobs and sings on the busy streets of London to sell his talent by playing hit Punjabi numbers (which probably are understood by all the white faces in the town). While the Punjabi touches everyone he meets with his magical wand, the guitar, he leaves, almost every time, a smile on the faces of those he chooses to grind in the middle of day. This includes middle aged men, divorced women, sex workers, street magicians and anyone on the street who has no job but to stop and listen to his songs.

The journey takes Samar into the arms of the beautiful Meera who is about to get married just because her father, played by Anupam Kher, a right wing hate monger (That is in his real life, not in the movie) wants her to marry a ‘Gora Angrez’. The 25 year old Samar and the 21 year old Meera however have different plans but due to prevailing circumstances cannot be together. Wipe off the smirk, Shah Rukh and Katrina both look 25 and 21 respectively.

The love story is cut short when Samar meets an accident and Meera begs ‘Sir Jesus’ to spare her lover’s life in return for their break up. Really? Anyway, Samar who now is trained in English (thanks to his girlfriend), decides to take off – don’t be surprised –  to join the army. This happens right after he challenges ‘Sir Jesus’ that he will prove his superstitions muse wrong by dying even when he is not around her. Thus begins the journey of diffusing bombs in the war strife region of Kashmir.

 Basically, just to prove a point that he can die when broken up with the beautiful Meera, the man joins the Army. Question – Whatever happened to the traditional way of dying by consuming rat poison or jump from a building or lying in front of the train? Why the protagonist chooses to actually diffuse 98 bombs and not just cut the wrong wire deliberately will be a shrouded mystery.

Somewhere in the middle, Discovery channel decides to make a documentary on the Indian Army and signs up an intern played by the noisy Anushka Sharma whose character yaps through the rest of the movie. Since when did Discovery channel start making PR movies on the armies of the world is yet another mystery. Meanwhile in real life Discoveries’, Channel 4 produced a film titled Kashmir’s Torture Trail which was about the organized torture carried by the Indian army in Kashmir. Some of these so called techniques included gang rape, electrocution, plucking of nails, sexual harassment of young boys etc. Obviously there isn’t enough space in Bollywood movies to discuss such issues; after all it’s the love story of a soldier.

 However it does have enough space for mini skirt clad Anushka, who dances in Pahalgam, in Gulmarg in Leh in Srinagar and on Shikarahs of Dal , jeeps of Army men, dining tables and the list goes on. In the background are ecstatic Kashmiri locales – women who are plucking apples in places where there are no trees visible, skull cap wearing Muslim boys running after the exotic Indian female while waving at their saviors – the Army. This is coupled with extremely bad dancers (Kashmiris dancing like Bollywood dancers is as unnatural as Narendar Modi wearing a Muslim prayer cap) and poor shikara wallah’s dressed in traditional winter wear clothing.

The rest of the movie is old school Bollywood, amnesia (Mein kaun hoon, mein Kahan hoon), reconciliation and the heroic attempts of the hero to win over his love and also gain his memory back which, by the way, is lost in yet another accident. It is not strange for a waiter turned expert bomb diffuser to diffuse 98 bombs; it makes perfect sense to YRF films that he has no traffic sense. The other important part of the star cast are Samar’s doctor (who seems to have one patient only – ‘The’ Shah Rukh Khan), a fat and good for nothing Pakistani who lives on the money of his good Indian friend and also the vintage couple, Rishi Kapoor and Nitu Singh. Rishi Kapoor plays the character of Imran who most of the time is busy drinking wine and loving his woman who actually is the wife of Anupam Kher but decided to run away with Imran. Probably it was the lunacy of it all that led her to run away in the first place. Confused? Don’t be, you will eventually figure it out while watching the agonizing venture which lasts more three hours.

But that’s not what our problem really is. It’s not only the the cloak of peace and normality which the Indian state forces Kashmiris to wear. Our problem starts with a very basic question; Why is it important to talk about a Bollywood film which will have absolutely no effect or will it impact any of the events taking place in Kashmir? The answer is simple. The mechanism of manufacturing consent undertaken by the Indian state over the issue of Kashmir is too broad and too organized and Indian films have always played a major role in this unholy process of falsification.

Before United States entered World War I, the immediate course of action on behalf of the government was to imbibe ‘Nationalistic’ feelings among the youth to fight a war which at that point had nothing to do with them. Posters, short films, pamphlets were thrown at the people with such an intensity that within months hundreds and thousands had joined the war. Pretty much like how tobacco companies in early half of this century marketed their products to target the women audience by showing popular actresses smoking in public, a sign of liberation or freedom. Or maybe what the James Bond series has been doing for the last 50 years.

It is irrelevant to debate on whether the propaganda masterminds of India have learnt lessons from elsewhere or is it their own baby but the perversion of serious political discourses done by such movies is very dangerous. One of the concerns, perhaps the most important of them all, is the degree of damage that the films high on jingoism and ultra nationalism wreak. It is actually impossible to measure something like that especially when movies like such seem to change nothing physical, but it’s the war which they set in motion right inside the sub conscious of a person.

Recently, Sanjay Kak (Jashn-E-Azaadi), a Kashmiri filmmaker spoke at a students meet which I had attended. Among the usual topics of occupations and its brutalities, Sanjay had brought up one very important issue that was of the culture of torture and its acceptance by the masses. According to him, it is very mundane how a military officer indulges in torturing the enemy and how perfectly normal he acts after performing the most horrendous of crimes. Like buying vegetables or playing with your own kids with the same hands which moments ago had blood spilled all over them.

Now here is where the relevance of the above mentioned thing can be seen in popular movies. These films mostly involve in role modeling, creating heroes which people can look up to. Heroes who perform acts of valor, and when finally a role model is created it is almost impossible to destroy it. This is because the stature of such heroes is so huge that flaws pointed out by the opposition are immediately  ridiculed or rubbished by them who now are blind followers of the ‘hero’ who in reality is a sadist, who enjoys killing and justifies it too. His violence is not defense or defiance but pure aggression, a sign of superiority. This does not stop here though. Suppose if someone chooses to have a debate on romantic movies in India. Immediately people who follow the dominant culture picture Shah Rukh prancing around trees. It is this fatal connect which people form eventually enhancing the manufacturing consent business. So when symbolism like this is done conditioning people, the masses literally become puppets and it becomes easier to enforce stereotypes and manipulate thought.

This is the reason that pointing fingers at the Indian defense is taboo, a sin, treason. From movies like Kashmir Hamara Hai (Kashmir is ours) to Lamha (Moment), the only institution which is glorified is the state. The boogeyman of course is the evil Pakistani, the Kashmiri, the fundamentalist and here comes the most abused word of this century – the terrorist. We don’t expect Indian films talking about the Mass graves of Kashmir, or the Gaw Kadal Massacre, Kunan Poshpora mass rape or the custodial killing of Jalil Andrabi. But least we can expect from them is to stop treating us like idiots. Guess it’s too much to ask for.

How is Yash Chopra’s Jab Tak Hai Jaan different from other Bollywood trash?

In simple words, while other Bollywood movies up until now engaged in hard core battles with the fanatics, this movie spares its audience from cursing the bearded Muslim terrorists. However it does one thing and one thing only – humanize the uniform. The military uniform which used to be a sign of bravery, of aggression, of patriotism , in JTHJ finds itself gaining sympathy. But is it that different from the preceding movies? A big NO. It’s a win-win situation for the people who are hell bent to distort realities of Kashmir. From fearing the army they moved to respecting the army and now it is ‘Love the army no matter what’. The scenario is quite similar to that of George Orwell’s 1984, in which the goal of the oppressors is not obedience from the subjects, but the unconditional love of the same people which the state subjugates and tortures.