Portrayal of Kashmir human shield incident in Tiger Shroff's 'Baaghi 2' is a new low for Bollywood
In 2018, the industry still uses Pakistan-bashing and vein-popping bursts of patriotism as crutches.
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Tone-deaf, problematic, ignorant and insensitive are all epithets that can describe the garden variety Bollywood potboiler. Tiger Shroff’s latest “action movie” Baaghi 2 manages to tick all the boxes with just one scene. In an exceptional display of callousness, this new Sajid Nadiadwala film decided to address an issue that has continued to be contentious since April 2017, when Farooq Ahmad Dar, an innocent Kashmiri voter, was forcibly used as a human shield by Major Nitin Leetul Gogoi of the 53rd Rashtriya Rifles to deter stone pelters.
On April 9, 2017, Dar, a Kashmiri shawl-maker, had left home along with his cousin after casting his vote to attend the funeral procession of a relative in Gaumpora. Upon reaching Utilgam — a nearby village — they were stopped by Major Gogoi and Dar was tied to the front bumper of the Army jeep as it patrolled villages, and used as a human shield against stone-throwing crowds.
It was a human rights violation and shocked the world. The Army, of course, went ahead and honoured Gogoi with the Army chief's Commendation Card for "sustained efforts" in counter-insurgency operations.
Art imitates life, and how.
In Baaghi 2, Army officer Ranveer Pratap Singh (played by Tiger Shroff) is seen using a man in Kashmir (possibly a militant or a stone pelter) as a human shield, tying him to the hood of his jeep to protect himself from an angry crowd. Film critic Raja Sen, in his review, writes: “It is the kind of thing I expected Hindi cinema to tackle at some point, but not in a Tiger Shroff film where his reasoning for this inhumanity is that somebody burned the Indian flag.”
A lot cannot be expected of a film industry that still uses tropes like casual (and sometimes not-so-casual) misogyny, homophobia and transphobia as crutches to drive films. In Bollywood, movie producers bank on stars instead of a coherent storyline to sell cinema.
Pakistan-bashing, hypernationalism and vein-popping bursts of patriotism are fixtures in Army films in the Hindi film industry. But even for Bollywood, this moment feels like a new low.
One can imagine why Bollywood is taking such a direction, given how India's political class treated Dhar's situation. Veteran actor and BJP MP Paresh Rawal, in May 2017, tweeted that celebrated author and activist Arundhati Roy ought to be tied to the front of an Army jeep in Kashmir. While Rawal soon deleted the tweet, another Twitter user expressed his appreciation for the idea and suggested that “if Arundhati Roy is not available Sagarika Ghose is always available,” to which Rawal replied, “We have a wide variety of choices!”
Around the same time, Union finance minister Arun Jaitley defended Major Gogoi’s actions by saying, "Well, military solutions are to be provided by military officers. How a situation is to be dealt with when you are in a war-like zone... we should allow our army officers to take a decision.”
More recently, BJP spokesperson and regular Right-wing troll, Tajinder Bagga, courted controversy when his clothing brand “T-Shirt Bhaiya” started selling T-shirts with an illustration of Dar tied to an Army Jeep bearing the odious caption: “Indian Army, Saving your ass whether you like it or not.”
When the masses and their representatives choose to view this incident — that academic and Columbia University professor Partha Chatterjee had described as “our own General Dyer moment” — with such acute levels of apathy, what can we expect from shallow films pandering to the government's sentiments?
Yet, is it not art (though Baaghi 2 is no form of art by any definition) that has an onus to hold up a mirror to the society, to point out what is wrong and why?
In this case, the film is no mirror, just distortion: an unstated vindication of Major Gogoi’s action, stamped with Bollywood’s seal of approval.
Describing the effects of this traumatic incident, Dar had said, "There are no bruises over the surface, but I am hurt on the inside".
Sadly, Baaghi 2 manages to be no balm for Dar’s pain.