Mayank Shekhar's Review: Lamhaa

By Hindustan Times

Director: Rahul Dholakia
Actors: Sanjay Dutt, Biapasha Basu, Kunal Kapoor
Rating: **

The dialogue writer of this film is weirdly inclined towards banal repetitions. Among words he chooses to drill in to his audience’s ears again and again – “Operation ’89”, “Kashmir, the most dangerous place on earth”, “Is this a political gimmick?”…. – “Kashmir ek bahut badi company hai” (Kashmir’s a huge company) seems a perennial favourite.

It refers of course to the disputed region of Jammu and Kashmir (either side of the line of control) as a thriving ‘industry’, where interested parties from all corners tend to profit from its eternal flame.

How green is this valley, the film argues, can be gauged from the sheer number of vested interests involved, besides local and international politics, and the military-industrial complex located both in New Delhi and Islamabad.

The situation is overwhelming for sure. The film appears even more overwhelmed. It's not easy to make sense of Kashmir. It's harder still then to make sense of this film.

The movie rightly traces the origins of ‘cross-border terrorism’ to 1989, when the American sponsored Mujahideens were high on confidence, with Russia’s defeat in Afghanistan. They flirted with an aggressive move eastward. Kashmir’s little children were recruited to fight in the name of God: “Agla jhumma Pindi mein (“Next Friday prayers in Rawalpindi,)” they cried to moving cameras. Certainly, General Zia’s radicalised regime in Pakistan, fat on Saudi cash, could take care of the accounts. Indian state’s own excesses in Kashmir would have contributed to the Valley’s anger.

The pitch now is queered further still. Lashkar-e-Taiba (Army of the good) is the leading voice of militancy: “Aai aai Lashkar aai, Bharat teri maut aai” (“Lashkar’s come. So has India’s death.”). Such are the loud words of the street, though years of fighting fatigue have made peace a positive option as well.

State election is on its way. A crack commando from Indian military intelligence (Sanjay Dutt) walks in to the Valley with pre-knowledge of a conspiracy “bigger than’89”. What worse could happen to a region burning anyway is hard to tell.

The brooding MI operative shadows a female fidayeen (Bipasha Basu). Her political boss (Anupam Kher) has had 17 attempts on his life. The last one was a bomb blast the commando investigates, posing as a journalist. He even steals documents from the state police, revealing wheels over wheels within the nation’s security ring itself. Local politics is divided over participation in the elections. A young reconciliatory leader (Kunal Kapoor; quietly convincing) chooses to. His former mentors disapprove.

Dutt, the ‘MI 1’, keeps a lone, private eye over all: old leaders (Mahesh Manjrekar), key informants (tailor, scribe etc). The camera simultaneously touches upon the issue of over 10,000 missing young in Kashmir; Pandits who turned refugees in their own country; frustrated Indian soldiers who make Rs 8,000 a month, buy their own uniforms, long for freedom… The film, in its movements and background score, adopts a tone of serious urgency. Neither however can conceal the nothingness, or immeasurable vastness (take your pick) within.

Over-research is an issue: over-reach, an obvious outcome. An aspiration to make that literal, major statement remains ever the movie bitch.

The film’s crackling, shaky shooting style, perhaps for the backdrop, reminds you immediately of Michael Winterbottom’s A Mighty Heart (2007). That phenomenal narrative was so strong on a singular plot that while you knew its subject Daniel Pearl -- the abducted Wall Street Journal reporter -- was no more; you almost believed he could come back.

It seems here, they figured the scattered footage or grand theme first; chose to post a hollow plot around it after. Sometimes the sheer authenticity of a location makes movies worth the trip. This brave effort, shot largely in Kashmir, is certainly no exception on that front. But that’s hardly a reason to recommend a full-length feature. Really.

Bollywood.com Rating: 2.5

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