About the story: SSP Inayat Khan (Sanjay Dutt), a muslim, is based in Kashmir and happily lives there with his wife Neelima (Sonali Kulkarni) who is hindu, and with their little son Irfan. But their happiness abruptly ends when Irfan gets seriously injured: As terrorist Malik Ul Khan (Puru Rajkumar) who fights for Kashmir’s independence gets every doctor killed who helps the Indian police, no one dares to treat the child, and finally Irfan dies. When shortly thereafter Malik is located in the house of a family which has nothing at all to do with terrorism, Khan orders the house to be raided and shoots Malik; but even the innocent family dies in the hail of bullets and only their little son Altaaf survives. As Khan after this massacre is tortured by his conscience, Neelima persuades him to adopt Altaaf as their son so that they can give the orphan all the love they cannot give anymore to Irfan. By and by, the traumatised boy becomes confident with his adoptive parents, but when he one day discovers that Khan is his parents’ murderer, he runs away. Ten years later, Altaaf (Hrithik Roshan) belongs to the best henchmen of terrorist Hilal Kohistani (Jackie Shroff) who just has accepted the order to work out a horrendous attack called "Mission Kashmir". For Altaaf, this mission also offers a chance to take revenge on Khan...
Initially, Vidhu Vinod Chopra fancied another constellation when he planned his film project Mission Kashmir. Inayat Khan should be the central leading role for Amitabh Bachchan whose co-star for the first time was to be Shahrukh Khan in the smaller role of Altaaf. But then both of them backed out of the project (and did, in the same year, Mohabbatein as their first joint movie), and Vinod had to make new arrangements. After roping in Sanjay Dutt for the role of Khan, Vinod scored a special coup by signing newcomer Hrithik Roshan who at that time, thanks to the sensational success of Kaho Naa... Pyar Hai, became the flavour of the moment, and as a consequence his role in Mission Kashmir was enlargened to a second lead, nearly equal to Khan – a liberty which Vinod presumably only could take because of his close friendship with Sanju who even would play small supporting roles for him without complaining. Anyway, Sanjay lumped his "degradation" and answered in his very own way – with a powerful and thoroughly convincing performance, forcing Hrithik to counter with more than just his good looks and his muscles for to match up with him. Which he succeeded in surprisingly well; especially the final showdown between Sanjay and Hrithik doesn’t lack a considerable amount of explosiveness.
With Mission Kashmir, Vidhu Vinod Chopra clearly had two things in mind. For one thing, the film is a powerful appeal for peace in this embattled region where, as script co-writer Suketu Mehta reported in his book "Maximum City - Bombay Lost And Found", during the shooting fiction and explosive reality often came within a whisker of each other. For another thing, the film makes a case for the peaceful co-existence of different religions. E.g. by showing the happily married couple Inayat and Neelu Khan (Khan to Altaaf: "Would Neelima be someone else if her name was Salma? I love her and therefore I married her. Was that a mistake of mine?"). Or by the moving dispute of hindu Avinash Mattoo (Abhay Chopra) and sikh Gurdeep Singh (Vineet Sharma). Or by T.V. moderator Sufiya Parvez (Preity Zinta) who clearly declares to her early love Altaaf that, though she’s muslim herself, she definitely doesn’t approve of her terroristic fellow believers’ deeds ("our religion doesn’t allow to kill innocent people"). Vinod makes no partial finger-pointing; against the assassinations by Pakistani terrorists he puts the Indian police’s massacre of the innocent family. No party is guiltless or flawless.
Mission Kashmir is a strong movie in powerful and beautiful pictures. Sonali Kulkarni and Preity Zinta both are slightly underemployed, but they are very good and their characters are essential for the story. After loads of mostly good and honest cops, Jackie Shroff finally got a villain’s role but his effect is not even half as dangerous as supposedly intended; I don’t know whether this Jackie’s or the director’s fault, but Halil’s appearance is so much overdone that I have my problems with taking him seriously. Hrithik Roshan delivers in Mission Kashmir (which was only his third released film) an appealing performance thanks to his intense acting; but in case he might have hoped to outplay a senior actor like Sanjay Dutt (especially after the upgrading of his role), he was mistaken: Sanjay shapes a forceful portrait of Inayat Khan with great intensity and touching emotions and, despite the role hassles, always remains in advance of his younger co-star. But I won’t even try to imagine Sanju’s feelings when he as Khan, in their great controversy, tried to make Altaaf see the horrible consequences of religious riots and terroristic attacks – as he had cruelly experienced them himself and still was (and is) suffering from the bitter consequences for him.
Unfortunately his Best Actor nominations at the Filmfare Awards, the IIFA Awards and Zee Cine Awards remained without a positive result; at least he got the Zee Premiere Choice Award. A sheer impudence, however, were in my opinion his nominations as Best Supporting Actor at the Sansui Awards and the Star Screen Awards (the latter one he even won). But whatever – the invitation into the president’s palace Rashparati Bhavan to a performance of the film for the Indian president surely meant more to Sanju than every award in the world. When he was asked about his thoughts at this occasion – after all, only a few years ago he still had been in jail –, Sanju answered:
"I just couldn't believe what was happening around me. I was in a haze. I was in a state of delirium. I couldn't for the life of me believe that I who was considered and is still considered a criminal by the court was invited by the President of India himself. I also started believing that the high powers in the land were aware that I was innocent, caught in a trap, built by my enemies whom I couldn't visualise or recognise. It was my greatest moment when the President, Mr Narayanan, shook my hands and patted me. I slept that night like I have never slept before. India loved me. The people of India wanted all the best things to happen to me. They were willing to give me all the love I asked for."
Produced and directed by Vidhu Vinod Chopra
150 Min.; DVD: Columbia Tristar, English Subtitles (including songs)