For Bollywood, Kashmir has been a prime destination for shooting films and music videos for many decades, however, this practice of Bollywood’s portrayal of Kashmir has seen a journey of representation from heaven to hell. Movies like Himalaya Ki God Mein, Jab Jab Phool Khile, Kashmiri ki Kali and Janwar draw this practice back to the 1960s. However, during the insurgency of the 90s, this practice started tailing off. Nonetheless, some Bollywood films and music videos were still being shot in Kashmir during that period, either for its picturesque landscapes in “apolitical projects”, or in manifestly politically inclined movies like “Mission Kashmir“.
Bollywood’s Orientalist Gaze For Kashmir
As a symbolic location of “Paradise on Earth”, Kashmir has played a significant part in the cinematographic landscapes of Bollywood since the 1960s. The metaphor of the romantic heaven with the presence of the exotic-looking “other” as a Kashmiri has been a typical trope of Indian cinema that defined classic 1960s Bollywood. Bollywood’s portrayal of Kashmir was equivalent to a fantasy world that exists only to be desired. It featured majestic mountains, waterfalls, and the legendary chinar trees, and Kashmiris when present, were used as mere props reducing them as part of the scenery. While Kashmiri men were depicted as naïve people with the only purpose of being pleasant and obliging, the “fair” Kashmiri women became a spectacle of orientalist and sexual gaze.
Using phrases like “Kashmir ki Kali” (Bud of Kashmir) to refer to and even catcall Kashmiri women became a common practice in India. The othering and self-representation of Kashmiris have been perpetuated by Bollywood.
Kashmir Trope- From Scenic to Violent
The 1990s saw a drastic change in the cinematic representation of Kashmir in Bollywood. The emergence of separatist movements in the valley changed the portrayal of Kashmir in Bollywood and Bollywood’s Kashmir motif went through a journey of representation from ‘heaven to hell’. Films like Roja (1992), Mission Kashmir (2000), and Yahaan(2005) that focused on the Kashmir insurgency were the first to be made. The 2005 movie “Yahaan” portrayed the story of a young Kashmiri girl who falls in love with a Hindu Indian Army man and misrepresents Kashmir’s resistance as an unholy hindrance to their pure love.
In 2018, a movie named “Baaghi 2” stirred controversy when it depicted a real-life incident of using a Kashmiri man as a human shield by an Indian Army officer named Major Nitin Leetul Gogoi. While many people thought that the human Shield Scene in ‘Baaghi 2’ was as problematic as the incident. While a small section of the Indian media and audience acknowledged that the glorification of the protagonist’s action in the film is a direct idolization of Major Gogoi’s stunt show in real life and is a “New Low for Bollywood”, majority of the Indian audience applauded Baaghi 2 for giving ‘tribute‘ to Major Gogoi through human shield scene.
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Bollywood After The Abrogation Of Article 370
In 2019, after Kashmir was stripped of its autonomy, the rise in jingoistic production in Bollywood using the Kashmir card has been immense. With movies like Kashmir Humara Hai (Kashmir is Ours), Article 370 Abolished, and Kashmir Mein Tiranga (referring to India’s tricolor flag in Kashmir) Bollywood filmmakers, musicians, and producers were first in the line to play the Kashmir card and register a slate of Indian nationalistic titles for their work on Kashmir. A recent film called “The Kashmir Files” also tried to milk the violence in Kashmir for commercial success.
Bollywood’s Kashmir Card
In January this year, some of Bollywood’s biggest banners and most famous singers came together in collaboration to make and sing a song called “Pyaara Jammu Kashmir” (Beautiful Jammu Kashmir). This song also stars a famous Bollywood actor Sidharth Malhotra whose recent fame in India was fueled by his movie “Shershah”, a biopic that glorifies the work of an Indian Army Officer in Kashmir.
The apparently non-violent lyrics of this song seem entirely thoughtless to the past and present scenario on the ground level in Kashmir. The song uses religious references to purport a sense of fake normalcy while also including some blunt phrases like “Bharat ka hai taj” (Kashmir is India’s crown), very commonly used in India to depict Kashmir’s “intrinsic and ultimate relation” to India.
Apart from this many larger and smaller music videos, advertisements, and Television shows also use the Kashmir trope to attract larger Indian audiences and send a political message. The fetishization of Kashmiris, especially Kashmiri women is a common plot in these productions. The central theme of Bollywood’s portrayal of Kashmir is to exoticize Kashmir’s beauty and stereotype Kashmiris and has been highly debated for perpetuating the Indian government’s narrative of Kashmir post militancy and the abrogation of Article 370.
Considering that Bollywood is one of the top ten entertainment industries in the world, second only to Hollywood, with a target audience of approximately 1.2 billion people in and outside India, it becomes important to speak about how big the impact of Bollywood’s portrayal of Kashmir can be.