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Movie Review: Lamhaa (2010)

2 Stars (out of 4)

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I should start by noting that, in the case of this review, the star rating above is likely instructive only to my fellow Americans and other Westerners who have an average or below-average understanding of the ongoing dispute over Kashmir. To fully appreciate Lamhaa (“Moment”), one needs a familiarity with the history, geography and politics of Kashmir that I (and I suspect most Americans) don’t have.

While I got the gist of the movie and enjoyed many of the performances, I came away uncertain of the motivations of various factions and what their relationships to one another are. Since I can’t be sure how much of the fault for the misunderstanding lies with the filmmaker and how much lies with me, I can only half-heartedly recommend Lamhaa to American filmgoers.

The plot concerns the return of an Indian Army officer, Vikram (Sanjay Dutt), to Kashmir, where he served during deadly riots that engulfed the region in 1989. Various separatist groups are working with politicians and industrialists to inflame public passion for autonomous self-rule and spur another round of riots twenty years later. To what end, I’m not sure, though it’s clear that money and power are at stake.

When Vikram arrives on the scene, he’s shown in slow-motion tossing his backpack over his shoulder and striding purposefully toward the camera. It’s the tough-guy-fantasy version of a beautiful blonde swinging her long hair over her shoulder in slow-mo. Besides the silly slow-mo, the cinematography is quite good, with quick zooms and a hand-held feel akin to the Syfy series Battlestar Galactica.

In trying to uncover plans for the renewed uprising, Vikram assumes the identity “Gul.” He meets Aziza (Bipasha Basu), the hot-tempered daughter of a local politician, Haji (Anupam Kher). Haji adopted Aziza after her own politician father was assassinated, raising her to lead a female gang of thugs known as the Fatima Squad.

Vikram saves Aziza’s life, and she gradually begins to trust him. When her childhood sweetheart, Aatif (Kunal Kapoor), pledges to run for office without using Haji’s violent tactics, Aziza begins to realize just how dangerous Haji is. She and Vikram work to uncover exactly what Haji has secretly been planning.

The actual unfolding of events is much more muddled than my recap. There are insurgent groups training child soldiers; industrialists doing business with the governments of India and Pakistan as well as the insurgents; “half-widows” trying to learn the fates of husbands arrested years ago by the Indian army.

Elements like the half-widows seem inserted into the movie just for the sake of providing a complete picture of the problems in Kashmir. They do little to advance the plot. The song montages are similarly needless time-fillers. A montage of Dutt’s character playing with little kids is particularly awkward.

What makes Lamhaa truly confusing are the frequent changes in location throughout Kashmir, India and Pakistan. Each new location is labeled at the bottom of the screen, but the labels are covered up by English dialog subtitles. There are scenes of border crossings, but thanks to the subtitles covering the location names, I have no idea which borders were being crossed.

The final impression given by Lamhaa — and the one that I believe the director wanted to convey — is that Kashmir is a complex place controlled by people whose desire for power and wealth overrides the needs of citizens with serious problems. I only wish a true understanding of the movie didn’t require the use of a map and some Venn diagrams.