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One of the great things about Bollywood is that for Americans who are tired to death of the inanity and sameness of summer blockbuster-type movies, these imports from India offer a completely different kind of movie experience. Mission: Kashmir, for example, presents a dedicated and happily married policeman trying to stop terrorists.  Easy enough to predict how Hollywood would handle that one : Michael Bay or some other loud noise and explosion director; Bruce Willis/Nicholas Cage/Arnold Schwarzenegger starring; Rene Russo as the wife; plenty of blood and death and snappy one-liners; no emotions; no thought required.  It's all so familiar and insipid you wouldn't even rent it went it comes to video.  Bollywood may be just as formulaic in its own way, but it is very much its own way and besides being fresh and different for an American viewer the formula also seems superior in several important aspects.

First, despite the Hindu nationalism of India, which would make you think filmmakers would shy away, the stories use politics and history to illuminate contemporary concerns--most often the clash between rival religions.  So in Mission : Kashmir, the hero, Inspector Inayat Khan is a Muslim loyal to India, hunting down Muslim terrorists who are trying to "liberate" Kashmir and destroy India. His particular hatred of the terrorists is fueled by a fatwa which was placed upon anyone who assists him or his family, so that when his son fell from a window no doctor would treat the boy even as he lay dying in Khan's arms.

But rather than present everyone as cardboard cutouts, uniformly bad or uniformly good, the film explores the legacy of hatred and the currents of violence that have made people hate each other.  In one especially effective scene, after a police raid in which Kahn's Hindu deputy, Avinash, has gone berserk, his Sikh colleague, Gurdeep Singh, tries comforting him.  But as Avinash bemoans the loss of loved ones to terror and wails that Gurdeep can't know what it is like, Gurdeep explodes in rage because his family was murdered by Hindus rioting after the assassination of Indira Gandhi.  In a nation where so many ethnicities and religions have co-existed so uncomfortably, everyone has his own scars, some quite horrible.

Another refreshing feature of these films is that they quite revel in melodrama and pathos.  So when Khan exacts his revenge, slaughtering an entire village to get at the terrorist leader who issued the fatwa, he rescues the man's son and at the insistence of his own wife, Neelima, adopts him.  The child, Altaaf, who witnessed the raid, is nearly catatonic and is obsessed with the ski-masked gunman who shot his father.  When, several years later, he finds the mask in Khan's desk drawer, he runs away from home, is taken in by a Kashmiri terrorist who raises him as a son, and dedicates himself to getting revenge on Kahn.  So the father is responsible for the death of Khan's son and Khan is responsible for the death of the father and now the son and Khan will duel to the death with the struggle in Kashmir, and the jihad of the boy's third "father", as a backdrop--and so violence begets violence and passes from generation to generation.

Meanwhile, Neelima, who is Hindu, is torn between the two men she loves and when Altaaf returns as a young man, hell-bent on murdering her husband, she tries desperately to convince him that no religion, no cause, no blood feud can justify his course of action, that he has a choice to make, between love and hate and good and evil.  But just the fact of her temporarily eluding security to meet with him brings down the distrust of Kahn's Hindu superiors upon him and Kahn confronts her, saying she'll have to choose between him and her "son".  And, of course, when the final confrontation comes, Altaaf does indeed have to choose between the vengeful and mindless sectarian violence or the kind of love and healing of which his "mother" spoke.

Granted, many of these scenes are way over the top and somewhat implausible, but they're at least trying to elicit some reaction from us.  The filmmakers want to invoke the emotions that might drive such destructive, even self-destructive, behaviors--to make us at least share the feelings if not the thoughts of the various characters.  Think how different this is than say a Die Hard movie, where the terrorists are merely evil incarnate with no coherent motivation.

The final innovation that Bollywood brings to the movies is one that can take some getting used to and is particularly jarring in a film like this one.  Bollywood productions tend to be musicals--not musicals as in the Sound of Music either, where there are songs throughout and some pretense for them, but musicals in the sense that big production numbers break out nearly at random, often blending in elements of fantasy, with no real intention of moving forward the narrative of the film.  Here the songs begin at a couple of really odd moments, once during a major terrorist assault and once when Kahn has unknowingly brought a bomb home in his briefcase.  Just when we'd expect the film to try and exploit the tension of the situation, the stars start singing and dancing.  As if the timing wasn't disconcerting enough, the song during the attack turns into a huge Up With People type extravaganza.  It's exceedingly odd.  But it's also so unusual that it ends up being rather exhilarating and it's certainly memorable.

If all this isn't enough to intrigue you : the cinematography and the scenery in Kashmir are spectacular; the screenplay's cowritten by the fine novelist Vikram Chandra; there are any number of terrific action sequences; there's a romantic angle as Altaaf finds the girl he loved in childhood; and the actors and actresses are uniformly fabulous looking.  Sanjay Dutt is especially appealing as Kahn, big, bluff, and tough, with the manly good looks of a Jack Lord or a Victor Mature.  Hrithik Roshan, as Altaaf, is more the Brad Pitt-type, a pretty and sensitive hearththrob, but it's very much Dutt's picture and he carries it ably.

With all this going for it and with terrorism and Kashmir so much in the news, it seems likely that even if you're new to Bollywood, this is a film you'll enjoy and a timely introduction to the fine crop of films coming out of India these days.

(Reviewed:01-Jul-02)

Grade: (A-)

Websites:

See also:

    -INFO : Mission : Kashmir (Imdb.com)
    -FILMOGRAPHY : Vidhu Vinod Chopra (Imdb.com)
    -ARTICLE :  International Bollywood blitz : Bollywood is breaking into the European market (Jo Episcopo , BBC, 26 October, 2000)
    -ARTICLE : This 'Mission' should steer clear of controversies (Tanuka Chakraverty, 15th Oct 2000, Apunkachoice)
    -REVIEW : of Mission : Kashmir (Saisuresh Sivaswamy, Rediff)
    -REVIEW : Mission Kashmir And The Recent Trends (Anupam Govil, Bollywood)
    -REVIEW : of Mission : Kashmir (Apunkachoice)
    -REVIEW : mission kashmir : a re-review (Upper Stall)
    -REVIEW : of Mission Kashmir (Irfan Ajeeb, BBC)
    -REVIEW : DVD Review "Mission Kashmir (Michel Hafner)
    -REVIEW : of Mission : Kashmir (Rich Rosell, Digitally Obssessed)
    -REVIEW : of Mission : Kashmir (Mohammad Ali Ikram, Planet Bollywood)

KASHMIR :
    -Kashmir Flashpoint (BBC)
    -ARTICLE :   Thriller (The Srinigar Conspiracy by Vikram Chandra) unravels Kashmir 'conspiracy' (BBC, 22 September, 2000)

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