About the story: The Indian Intelligence Service observes increasing activities of the terror group Lashkar-e-Toiba in Kashmir prior to the upcoming elections and sends Vikram Sabharwal (Sanjay Dutt) there for investigations. For this purpose, he assumes the name of Gul Jehangir. Vikram witnesses a suicide attack on the leader of the radical Muslim separatist party PKF Haji Sayyed Shah (Anupam Kher) which kills party leader Shabber Ali and his driver. Vikram gets on the track of a planned 'Operation 89' in Jammu which might cause worse consequences than the devastating Kashmir riots in 1989. Encounters with Haji Sayyed Shah, with freedom fighter Aziza (Bipasha Basu) who shares the radical views of her adoptive father Haji, with Aatif Hussain (Kunal Kapoor) who broke with the PKF and now intends to run for the elections with his own party, and with many other people make Vikram more and more realize who's and what's behind the extremism...
"God made heaven. Man created hell. This is the story of Kashmir."
Lamhaa definitely is a film you have to watch twice. Not exactly for the actors though especially Sanjay Dutt and Anupam Kher are excelling and even the rest of the cast does well, from Bipasha Basu to Kunal Kapoor (who only fails a bit in delivering his political speeches) and to the splendid supporting actors headed by Jyoti Dogra (Badi Bi), Shernaz Patel (Parveena) and Mahesh Manjrekar (Peer). Not exactly either for the landscape pictures though many of them are breathtakingly beautiful – and all the more you're cracked when even the most beautiful landscape pics are not free from barbwire (which you can observe specially well during the song "Madhno Re").
No, the reason is the abundance of information which director of Parzania fame Rahul Dholakia collected during years of intense research in Kashmir and then worked up in his movie Lamhaa (= moment) which was also mostly shot in the troubled valley (partly under dangerous circumstances). Even if you informed yourself beforehand about the film and its background – while actually watching it for the first time you're just busy to gather this flood of information, to digest them and to sort them – above all when you're depending on the subs. In a way Lamhaa thus reflects exactly the confusion and unrest prevailing (unfortunately) in Kashmir. However, when you then watch the film the second time with all the knowledge you now got, the film ultimately hits you to the core.
I know that in a way this speaks against the film; a film should be made to be understandable already at the first time. Absolutely correct. On the other hand, similar syndromes can be observed even at belauded films like Matrix, just to name one example – it surely takes more than just one watching to discover (if you discover it at all!) that the story re-enacts the Great Arcanum of the Tarot cards. In so far, you can pretty well give Lamhaa a second chance too.
Maybe Dholakia should have made two or three films with his material. And surely he should have avoided some embarrassing mistakes like using a too small type size for the important information about the historical background at the beginning which makes it nearly impossible to pick up this knowledge. Or the unnecessary slow motion intro of Sanjay Dutt which may be okay if Sanjay plays cool heroes, bhais or gangsters but doesn't go well with an intelligence service agent in a realistic story like this, the more so as it puts the film too close to standard mainstream fiction and deprives it of its seriousness already during the first minutes. (The same repeats later with Kunal's motorbike intro – again you're confronted with a filmi hero coolness which, needless to say, is not continued later.)
Nevertheless Lamhaa should be watched. Or, as I said, twice. Or even more often (that's the stadium I've reached meanwhile). So that you can get at least a presentiment of the whole spectrum of hopelessness, despair, anguish, anger and loss of identity in Kashmir – plus the radicalism and the imperceptible manipulations behind it which make the situation in Jammu and Kashmir as vast and insolvable as the film turns out to be. Dholakia was accused not to have offered solution possibilities. But how could he? If there were any, wouldn't they have been tried out long since? If the end of Lamhaa is open and leaves you in a state of cluelessness and confusion, then it's the only end which does justice to the film and its issue.
For there is above all one fact which Lamhaa shows in all mercilessness: All are profiting from the conditions in Kashmir – government, military, politicians, police, intelligence service... even the tailor who sells his uniforms to the militants aswell as to the underpaid soldiers. Aatif Hussain who lays down the arms ("they are against the Islam") gets best to the point when he blames Haji: "You all sell dreams of freedom. You've turned Kashmir into a company." And Peer ups the ante: "Kashmir is a very big company. They make crores of rupees everyday." Even the border soldier on duty rakes in his profits when he, for a high bribe, opens the border for three hours so that 30 Pakistani can be channelled in – plus five more so that the border troops can shoot their quantum. The government profits from the terror – the more fear of terror, the higher is the budget. And therefore freedom is not desirable, not even the intention to gain it. And so the people continue to live in their "beautiful jail" Kashmir with daily identity controls and the permanent risk to be hit by a bullet (no matter whether by a terrorist or by the military). In Dardpura, the village of the half-widows in Northern Kashmir, more than 10,000 women will continue to search for their husbands and sons who disappeared without a trace (in Indian prisons?). In Lashkar, the children's training camp in the part of Kashmir occupied by Pakistan, children will continue to be drilled to become suicide attackers with no will of their own. And no politician responsible will ever be arrested as they enjoy diplomatic immunity. While the people lose their identity ("Why am I a stranger in my own world?").
I want to end my meditations about Lamhaa with quoting an Indian friend of mine whose considerations about this film are corresponding to mine: "The movie is not a comprehensive story because Kashmir has reached that stage. The politics, the terrorists, the regular people, the army, the governments etc are all just woven so tight like a knot that cannot be untied...just cut! If it helps, the end was very satisfying for me because that is exactly what the mind feels affter the small child has died in the war of these insane adults...deep down nothingness...what can you do? there is no happy conclusion, or even a satisfying one. So, if you get a chance see it again...you will really appreciate it." (Moha Dholakia Mehta)
Produced by Bunty Walia, Juspreet Singh Walia; Directed by Rahul Dholakia
111 Min.; DVD: Big Home Video, English Subtitles (including songs)
Official Facebook Group
Rahul Dholakia's Lamhaa Blogs:
"Welcome to Kashmir. The most dangerous place in the world."
Hum Kya Chathe? "Azaadi"
Kashmir - The beautiful prison
Kashmir - AK47