Mission Kahmir: The relationship between Indian popular cinema and the mobilization of national desire

In 2001, the film Mission Kashmir (dir. Vidhu Vinod Chopra, 2001) hit the screens with his portrayal of Altaaf, a Kashmiri whose life is a battleground between good and bad father figures. Witness to the decimation of his family during a crackdown, the orphaned Altaaf is subsequently fostered by the same police officer, Inayat Khan, who had commandeered that operation, and whose own son has died because of Kashmiri militancy.

Haunted by recurrent dreams of a man in a balaclava, Altaaf discovers the same balaclava in Khan’s bedroom. Khan thus unmasked, the boy runs away, returns, transformed, as the older terrorist. Manipulated by the mercenary Afghan jihadi Hilal Kohistani, Altaaf’s desire for revenge conflates struggle against the good father with Kashmiri struggles against the Indian nation-state.

Mission Kashmir can manifest preoccupation with the traumatic impact of the Kashmir conflict on the national imaginary with its latent, discomfiting realization that wars are fought and won with the camera rather than the gun. Mission Kashmir can also be viewed as a self-conscious moment within a long history of the articulation of Indian desire for the Kashmir Valley through the cinematic apparatus we call “Bollywood.”

The film offers a meta-cinematic memory of a lost Kashmir, as well as a reflection on cinema’s role in precipitating that loss. Loss is configured in this film through cross-cutting axes of desire between all the characters. These tangled circuits superimpose on the topography of the Valley a tortured psychic topography of trauma, memory, and longing.

As Jahanara,Kabir and Ananya narrates in Territory of Desire : Representing the Valley of Kashmir, University of Minnesota Press, Bollywood films in particular are repositories of cultural memory around which group identification, including that elusive “national feeling,” crystallizes. The volatile theatre they constitute for the miming of contestations over the “State” as both the “site of demand and the stake of the struggle,” also invariably reaffirms the sanctity and salience of “nation.” This understanding of Bollywood helps us reconstruct and explicate its historical use of the Valley to construct a postcolonial modernity.

(Reference, Kabir, Ananya Jahanara. Territory of Desire: Representing the Valley of Kashmir. NED-New edition, University of Minnesota Press, 2009, http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.5749/j.ctttsj7p).

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