Few of the recent developments surrounding the abrogation of Article 370 that gave the state of Jammu and Kashmir a special status, bring to mind how a particular image of Kashmir has persisted in the conscious minds of many Indians.
Popular Hindi cinema has for long ensured that people outside the state continue to look at Kashmir from a particular perspective that only allowed telling only half the story. Irrespective of the ground reality, Hindi films would only highlight either the ‘paradise on earth’ or the ‘suffering of one particular segment of Kashmir’ analogies. Even though India was forced to fight a war with Pakistan just months after Independence over Kashmir, and later fought three more battles primarily over the same issue, not a single Hindi mainstream film between the 1950s and 1980s at - tempted to deviate from the two go-to analogies.
How films achieved to create this subtle yet conscious image, ensured that no one bothered about reality, not beyond a point, at least. For most Indians, Kashmir was a troubled entity, but it was also something that India had managed to get on top of, or else how could we only view it as a place to frolic?
This is the reason why in the late 1980s when militancy blew up and Pandits were forced to leave their homes did not move the rest of India as much as it ought to have. You would sigh at the news of the genocide of Kashmiri Pandits and hope it all went back to the halcyon times of shikara rides or romance brewing under the Chinar trees or dancing on a houseboat to lilting tunes. Beginning with Shammi Kapoor, Sharmila Tagore, Saira Bano and Rajendra Kumar in the early 1960s, and later Shashi Kapoor, Nanda, Rajesh Khanna, Rakhee, Mumtaz, Amitabh Bachchan, Rekha, Rishi Kapoor, Neetu Singh, Kumar Gaurav, and Sunny Deol to name a few, nearly all leading stars have been featured in multiple films that showed Kashmir in a way that was devoid of any semblance to reality.
Looking at how minds could be compelled to look at things in a way, reminds one of Stanley Kubrick’s seminal A Clockwork Orange where Alex (Malcolm Mc- Dowell), a charismat i c, sociopathic delinquent often indulging in violence, is captured and attempted to rehabilitate via controversial psychological conditioning. Adapted from the 1962 Anthony Burgess’ novella of the same name, Kubrick played with the subconscious of the viewer where the narrative questions whether behavioural psychology and psychological conditioning were dangerous new weapons and even though there is nothing likeable about Alex, by the end of the film, he wins the audiences’ sympathy. Burgess had based the book on real-life CIA-run mind-control experiments, including MK-Ultra, where between 1953 and 1973 more than 150 brainwashing experiments were conducted on thousands of subjects. Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange is the first place where MK-Ultra crawled into the mainstream spotlight. Today, the 60-year-old mindcontrol program has become a persistent pop culture trope referenced in episodes of The X-Files to Netflix’s Stranger Things.
Marlon Brando once brushed off a creative argument between director Francis Ford Coppola and cinematographer Gordon Willis on the sets of The Godfather (1972) by calling it just a gangster flick. In the end, the film transformed the way ordinary people viewed mobsters and made crime look like a great family business. Therefore, the next time you see Kashmir Ki Kali or hum Rafi’s ‘Lakhon hain nigah mein’, remember that it might not be just a senseless, escapist film.
Film historian and bestselling author