Sanjay DuttRajendra GuptaPreity ZintaSonali Kulkarni
Mission Kashmir
Medium: film
Year: 2000
Director: Vidhu Vinod Chopra
Writer: Vidhu Vinod Chopra, Vikram Chandra, Abhijit Joshi, Suketu Mehta, Atul Tiwari
Language: Hindi, Urdu, English
Country: India
Actor: Sanjay Dutt, Hrithik Roshan, Preity Zinta, Sonali Kulkarni, Jackie Shroff, Puru Rajkumar, Abhay Chopra, Vineet Sharma, Rajendra Gupta, Master Mohsin, Master Yogin Soni, Heenaa Biswas, Sanjeev Rattan, Manoj Mishra, Chandan Bisht
Format: 160 minutes
Website category: Asian
Review date: 29 September 2010
Can't say I'd recommend this one. However in fairness I watched it with subtitles in a language I don't know, so that can't have helped the viewing experience. To its credit, I never felt lost.
It's a Bollywood action film, more or less. However more precisely, it's a 160-minute movie with occasional action scenes, which I think is the film's main problem. It didn't have to be anywhere near that long. You could trim off a full hour and still not have something with a bit of fat on it. Of course it's possible that this kind of length is normal for Bollywood movies (e.g. Lagaan) and I'm being culturally insensitive by not showing more patience, but even so I'm afraid this one had me clock-watching.
It could have been worse, mind you. I was aware of its length, but it didn't bore me. It's not as if you'll be struggling to finish it or anything. It looks good, it has some nice performances and as a production at least it's fairly classy.
There's a powerful underlying story. Sanjay Dutt is a tough-guy policeman who saves lives and loves his family. However when his son has an accident, the doctors won't do anything to save him because a local terrorist group has sworn to kill any doctors who help the police, plus their wives and children. The son dies. Dutt doesn't take this well. Not long after this, we've seen a massacre in which the police accidentally gun down an innocent family along with the terrorists and drag away the sole survivor (a young boy) to their cells.
So far, so straightforward. The "eh?" twist comes with Dutt's wife (Sonali Kulkarni) persuading him to adopt the boy, despite the fact that the boy's haunted by seeing his family gunned down in front of him and would presumably turn homicidal if he ever found out that it had been Dutt under that balaclava.
This is impressive. What's even more impressive is how even-handed the movie's being in its portrayal of the very real conflict in Kashimir. Both sides are the heroes of their own stories. Even the terrorist at the beginning who personally shoots a doctor's wife and daughter is a happy, smiling soul who genuinely doesn't want to do it. Meanwhile I suppose Dutt's technically the good guy, but if pushed too far he's fully capable of marching into the cells and shooting suspects. This is a story without villains, in which everyone's driven by a personal tragedy and yet each of those was a reaction to another one before it. Okay, that's not quite true. There is one villain. He's a sinister international terrorists who's manipulating Kashimiri terrorists and must have a bad neck because he never lifts his head above 45 degrees and instead has to glower at the camera. He's a bit more cartoonish than the rest of the film, but he's not a serious problem.
Lots of Indian reviewers seem to have gone apeshit for this film, for what it's worth. It ends with a beautifully worded dedication to the region, while the director has said he was trying to build "hope for the future and a hope for the Kashmir people". That I admire.
All that's good. However it's also flabby, with an interminable second act and a glib finale that's playing to the back rows. I wanted to fast-forward through the romantic leads' song-and-dance numbers, while the action movie stuff isn't even trying to do anything you haven't seen before. At one point they even do Hong Kong style wire-fu.
The performances are respectable. I'd have liked Sanjay Dutt better if he were scarier, but you could argue that those sad, tired eyes were a characterisation choice. It's consistent and makes sense, anyway. Check out his eyes at the height of his tragedy. He looks like one of Lovecraft's Deep Ones! Hrithik Roshan has big muscles and plenty of energy. However it's the women who have the most sparkle, Sonali Kulkarni being delightful (and gorgeous) while Preity Zinta has a real knack for cheeky facial expressions. Basically they're all good, although unfortunately the child actors for Young Roshan and Young Zinta don't have any chemistry together. This wouldn't be so bad if they didn't keep returning in flashbacks.
The director had been Oscar-nominated for one of his first films, incidentally, in 1978.
This isn't a bad movie, but it's a long way from being a gripping one. It's slack. It takes too much time over the emotional stuff and ends up not living up to the power of its premise. I'd have preferred to see a more uncompromising ending. However it looks great and a ruthless editor could probably edit it into something really rather good. In particular I think it's unfair to call it a "terrorism musical" (although it is) because: (a) it's a pre-9/11 movie, unlike, say, Battle Royale 2, and (b) it's portraying both sides of the conflict, with the terrorists being just one piece of the jigsaw. I'd even say it might even be worth checking out, so long as you've got some ironing to do while watching.