Mission Kashmiriyat: Paradise Lost and (Re)Gained?

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In the context of Indian cinema and filmic representation of the Kashmiri insurgency, Vidhu Vinod Chopra’s Mission Kashmir (2000) performs the urgent symbolic work of legitimizing and authenticating the human need for homeland; it (re)creates a field of collective mourning for a paradise lost and, in so doing, clears the way for a collective yearning for, possibly, a paradise regained. The paradise lost, in this case, was Kashmiriyat, that pre-modern stirring together and commingling of local ethnicities and histories, perhaps the original “commons.” It was precisely the tragic loss of Kashmiriyat that the filmmaker, himself a Kashmiri, mourned when he said that “[t]he film is a labor of love, a response to the agony of Kashmir, a call for sanity and peace and an offering to the spirit of Kashmiriyat.” It might have been easy for Chopra, himself a Kashmiri Hindu, to skew the film in the direction of an uncritical patriotism and hardened Hindu-Muslim positions, but he avoids displacing his own cultural identity onto the film by his allegiance to this higher cause, evidenced in the film, for instance, in the Muslim character Inayat Khan’s inter-faith marriage with Neelima, a Hindu. While ultimately, Mission Kashmir defers or elides resolution on the broad political question of Kashmir, I argue that it is a complex film that broaches the global political realm via the personal story of harrowing family loss. In the zero-sum exchange enacted by the dénouement, everyone who survives plays cricket in a phantasmagoric sequence set against an artificial background. Nostalgia and grief abound; the ghosts of the dearly departed are in our midst. The filmmaker’s dedication reads: “For my children [. . .] and for all the children of conflict—may they dream without fear. May they someday rediscover that valley of love I grew up in, that haven of harmony, that paradise called Kashmir.” Thanks to the abiding power and craft of film, if indeed paradise has been lost, it can be rediscovered, even rewound and fast-forwarded, the desire for Kashmiriyat fixed—for now—in an obviously fake set where players play by the known rules and everyone is a winner. In this sense, the film itself seems to resist the label of “national cinema” and participates instead in the globalizing process of which it is itself both participant and interrogator.


Presented at the Modern Language Association Annual Convention, Boston, Jan, 2013.