So what are the ingredients of a perfect film? A tight script with the right graphs, never plateau-ing, with its ups and downs and a culmination that puts you in orbit; the visual storytelling that depicts the script truthfully and yet appeals in a way that few can envision; and finally, the process of putting it all together and completing a piece of art that is truly appreciable. Mission Kashmir fails on one and a half counts but yet is a must-see film for those who are steadily losing hope of the direction that Indian cinema is taking.
Mission Kashmir primarily fails script-wise. The problem here is not the director's vision, but his need to fulfill the requirements for an acceptable film for the masses. Fundamentally, the story, of personal revenge set in a backdrop of current Kashmir is excellent. However, to involve the central characters in the big-picture conflict at the beginning and end and to go completely awry in the middle is a bit of a let down. Either we should have Kashmir as the backdrop, or the central issue. What we have is vengeance involving two people as the issue, and the resultant sufferer, Kashmir. This is unconvincing... which would be quite alright if Vidhu Vinod Chopra had not made such a big deal about Kashmiriyat and his hope that one day all will be well with his birthplace. As we see the director catering to the audience, numerous flaws surface as the movie progresses. Too many flashbacks (they should've stopped at the interval), an unorganized uncovering of the whole "mission" (who? where? what?) and too many events happening too easily (when they shouldn't be - like planting the bomb in Khan's car) takes away significantly from the film.
On performances and characterizations, Hrithik's role, for no fault of his or the director's, he looks like he is continuing to play the part he did in Fiza. Fiza, of course, is easily the contender for worst film of the year (decade!) and it was uncomfortable to see Hrithik in ditto get-up, saying ridiculously similar lines dealing with the same jehad and continuing to play the little boy who has lost his direction and balance. His character even suffers because he is a little low on IQ and had he even the most basic commonsense (which he astutely shows when he is 10 years old) as an adult, the story wouldn't be the way it was. Characters don't have to be unnecessarily moronic for a fitting screenplay. An example (and there are several as you have surely seen) would be to point out the fact that throughout the film he did not question what Mission Kashmir was about or why were the things that were happening around him, happening in the first place. Sanjay "Inayat Khan" Dutt does a wonderful job in his muti-faceted role. Jackie Shroff, however, in his effort to add that mystique about him, ermm… fails. All credit has to go to the way he is directed and photographed. Sonali Kulkarni a) is either completely miscast or b) is untouched by the make-up person. She could be Hrithik's lover instead of mother. This brings us to Preity Zinta, Hrithik's lover and the be all and end all of Kashmir's entertainment industry (from a live performer to TV news reader, from event manager to video editor). The script gets her all wrong in the second half as, in my opinion, she becomes the true hero of the film as she "unravels" the plot of (the actual) Mission Kashmir in a video. Now this video bit (which is really so critical to the story) completely went over my head. How did she piece together from what had been shot of location on a handycam, a scene from the future where Hazratbul is blown up? The only explanation that one has is that they were high-end computer generated animations - created by the militants who are portrayed living in shambles. This, of course, makes no sense.
So what makes Mission Kashmir a very good film to spend the money on and watch it in theaters? Well for starters, Binod Pradhan's cinematography. This man is way ahead of any other cameraperson in this country. Santosh Sivan included. His work in this film along with Chopra's near-flawless direction contributes to what is easily one of the slickest Indian films in a long time. In fact, one is tempted to call this film the most technically superior film made in this country. Its awesome sound (sfx, music, everything) more than contributes to its advantage. But getting back to Pradhan's delectable camera work…. From the unique (to Indian cinema) perspectives of the action sequences (so what if they re-did the Matrix, the very fact they pulled it of with it looking every bit as good as the original, is enough to write home about) to the panoramic aerial shots of the Kashmir landscape, in these sequences this film matches any of its Hollywood counterparts frame to frame. Chopra's direction too reiterates his commitment to better cinema as one can easily see that no short-cuts have been taken during the actual shoot. He is not one to be content resting on his laurels of being an Oscar-nominated director (An Encounter with Faces).
But the greatest achievement is that for the first time, a film has come along that portrays Kashmir in its true colors. Not a single shot is exaggerated in terms of content (disregarding the cinematic climax) and yet the turbulent beauty of this land is depicted in its true and current state. Generation-x, who has heard all about it, but seen nothing of this land, is pleasantly surprised to see Kashmir as it is. The Kashmir on film is the real Kashmir. One that few people have had the opportunity to experience. Wonderful.
And a special mention for Bhumro. Not only is the tune one of the catchiest and the sequence, a highlight of the film, Chopra's constant use of this Kashmiri folk song as the film's theme is marvelously executed.
All in all, I feel sorry for Vinod Chopra. He is just at the wrong place at the wrong time. He deserves more than the rigid-minded Indian cine-goer. His dedication to quality filmmaking is wasted as he tries to appease this mind with the conventional three-hour song and dance ridden film. Had he made this same film for another audience, any other audience, without the Hindi film histrionics and a length that did not exceed the conventional hour and a half, with a plot that was a little more plausible and one that did not require superheroes or multi-faceted characterizations, Mission Kashmir would truly be no less than brilliant. But for now, he has to settle for less: a highly watch able film.