Lamhaa ReviewCast: Sanjay Dutt, Bipasha Basu, Kunal Kapoor, Anupam Kher, Mahesh Manjrekar, Shernaz Patel, Yashpal Sharma, Vipin Sharma, Aman Verma , Vishwajeet Pradhan, Rajesh Khera, Murli Sharma, Jyoti Dogra, Denzil Smith, Yuri Suri, Ehsaan Khan and others; Director: Rahul Dholakia; Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Warning. This is not a completely unbiased review. Being a Kashmiri, even one who hasn’t been back since 1989, there is no way I could remain unmoved at the sight of either the forlorn Dal Lake, or the pretty boys talking Lashkar language or the beautiful city of Srinagar reduced to ruins, with barbed wire, sandbags and ghost houses.

Rahul Dholakia’s film has been shot largely in Kashmir and it’s a brave thing to do, yes Sikandar and Tahaan were also shot there but there is much more that is controversial in a brilliantly researched if not perfectly executed film.

No one can say that Dholakia chooses easy subjects. Parzania was about a minority caught in the Gujarat riots crossfire. Lamhaa is about a state caught in the international headlights since 1947–a Pakistani handler in the film caresses his AK-47 and tells the Kashmiri militant sitting with him, do you know what it stands for? Azad Kashmir since 1947.

Lamhaa’s problem is that it tries to do too much. There is the RAW-like operative Gul Jehangir, played by Sanjay Dutt who is unfortunately shot in slow motion, Kaante style a little too often. There’s a brilliantly crafted Haji, played by Anupam Kher, ironically a Kashmiri Pandit in real life. There’s Atif, Kunal Kapoor, a militant who refuses to work for the Lashkar and splits with the Haji, deciding he will fight elections. There’s Aziza, a very believable Bipasha Badu, who plays a militant who takes a long time to see the Haji for what he is.

Dholakia doesn’t miss a single aspect of contemporary Kashmir–the division in the Hurriyat, the corrupt local politicians, the cunning central government, the absence of the Pandits (ironically the only one we see is a reporter Dhruv Raina).

It’s nearly impossible to make everything that is wrong in Kashmir come together in a mainstream movie but Dholakia almost pulls it off. Kashmir is the biggest company, with crores thrown at it to keep it alive. Kashmir is the most dangerous place on earth. It’s also the most beautiful. God made heaven. And man created hell. This is the story of Kashmir.

Such dialogue runs through the film like the rivulet of blood that it has become. Everyone is constantly looking over their shoulders in the film. Gunfire comes nowhere. Bombs go off without reason. CRPF men lose control in the face of provocative posters saying Indian Dogs Go Home. One Kashmiri asks another who has just returned from Jaipur: Hindustan se kab laute?

The action is almost breathless. Bipasha slits an attacker’s throat. Sanjay Dutt kills many militants. Kunal Kapoor is tortured by the poilce–you wear India’s uniform and work for Pakistan, he taunts him. It is the very tragic story of a proud, once peace loving state, which as the prologue says “chaku chalana bhi nahin jaante thhe”.

We are told constantly that 89 ‘se bhi bada kuch hone wala hai”. No one except the innocent people of Kashmir seem to want peace. The politicians make too much money from its trouble, Pakistan needs it too much to deflect attention from its own extremism, and governments are plain ineffectual. Little boys saying: Ai ai Lashkar ai/Bharat teri maut ai. Militant handlers saying: Is Diwali se pehle Id aigi. Soldiers paid just Rs 7,000 a month, expected to cook their own food and make their own uniforms, expected to defend a state that doesn’t want to be.

There are some terrible scenes here that will have you weeping; little boys with angelic smiles playing with bullets, not marbles. Pink cheeked girls being forced to sleep with militants. Angry wives denied their husbands. The cinematography is brilliant, almost as fine as that other underrated gem about Kashmir, Yahaan, by Shoojit Sircar (that was before Minisha Lamba discovered a white bikini and ruined her career). Kashmir has never looked so sinister.

The writing could have done with less rhetoric. Yes, we know Kashmir is a business, that 1989 was a flashpoint, that ”gussa har Kashmiri ko virasat main milta hai”, that Kashmiriyat ko Lal Chowk par bech diya hai. Perhaps we could have lived with less repetion but in a state where every peaceful summer is followed by a year of turbulence, I think these are things that cannot be restated often enough.

More than that though, the film is gripping, and while it may be trying too hard to be true to every complex reality of Kashmir, its heart is big. And more importantly in the right place.

In making a film about a state where no one is what he or she seems, it’s not a mean feat.

From Hazratbal to Kheer Bhavani, a film worth forgiving its minor flaws (casting Mahesh Manjrekar as a Kashmiri pir being one. Any minute I thought he was going to whip out a gun and speak in Mumbaiya Hindi).

Source: India Today

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