Haq Se Review: An Aching Nostalgia for Kashmir Makes It Worthwhile
<i>Haq Se,</i> starring Rajeev Khandelwal and Surveen Chawla in the lead roles, is streaming on ALTBalaji.&nbsp;
Haq Se, starring Rajeev Khandelwal and Surveen Chawla in the lead roles, is streaming on ALTBalaji. (Photo Courtesy: Facebook/Haq Se)

Haq Se Review: An Aching Nostalgia for Kashmir Makes It Worthwhile

“Puri duniya Kashmir ko ignore kar rahi hai, jaise Kashmiri mard Kashmiri auraton ki khwahishon ko”, says a feisty Jannat Mirza in the second episode of Haq Se – the latest offering by ALTBalaji. This pretty much sets the premise of what is to follow...

A perfect amalgamation of substance and soul, Haq Se – at the surface – is a spectacular looking web series. But then you can’t except any less when the setting is Kashmir – still the paradise on Earth.

But where director Ken Ghosh scores is in his deft interweaving of the despair and darkness that has clouded the landscapes of Kashmir with vibrant pashminas and picturesque shikaras. It is this powerful juxtaposition of contrasting images that makes the nostalgia for the erstwhile Kashmir hauntingly real.

The Mirza Family As the Microcosm of Present Day Kashmir

The Mirza family in ALTBalaji’s <i>Haq Se</i>.&nbsp;
The Mirza family in ALTBalaji’s Haq Se
(Photo Courtesy: Facebook/ALTBalaji)

An adaptation of Louisa May Alcott’s classic Little Women, Haq Se is an unflinching look at the dreary realities and political mayhem that has torn asunder families in Kashmir – the Mirza family being just one of the many.

At the helm of affairs is Rabiyah Mirza, a painstaking embodiment of the ‘half-wife-half-widow’ phenomenon in Kashmir. She is forced to become the “man” of the house after the sudden disappearance of her husband. His whereabouts are unknown much like several men in the war-torn valley. Nonetheless the family awaits his return with a hope that reeks of anguish and pain.

The sisters – Meher, Jannat, Bano and Amal – are fighting their individual inner conflicts against the backdrop of a simmering Kashmir. Meher, nursing the pangs of a broken heart and unrequited love, is the calm to Jannat’s chaos. It seems, at times, that the angst of the valley is foisted on the latter’s persona. The careful choice of her name eerily stokes the nostalgia of a land that was...

But instead of pining for the past, she wants to fight to reclaim it – giving hope in hopelessness. Her weapon is her pen and as a journalist, Jannat embodies the grit and determination of Kashmiris under any circumstance. She is also given the strongest dialogues in the web series. They strike us as uneasy revelations about our hypocritical presumptions about Kashmir and Kashmiris at large.

The line, “I want to talk..I need to talk..bahut ho gayi band darwaazon ke peeche dabi hui aawazon mei baatein...this is the irony we live in”, is particularly thought provoking. It lays bare the conundrum that most Kashmiris perhaps find themselves in – swaying between a desire to speak but restricted by the fear of repercussion.

By telling the intimate story of the Mirzas, the writers take us on a ride to Kashmir – a Kashmir battered by curfews and internet shutdowns, a Kashmir where stone-pelting injures a 4-year-old, a Kashmir where siyasat of convenience reigns supreme, and above all, a Kashmir fraught with tensions, but nonetheless breathtaking.

Of course, a landscape such as this is bound to beget contradictions. This comes in the form of the volatile family dynamics of the Mirzas. The strains in the relationship of the sisters – who stand for different things – is too obvious to overlook. This is perhaps the most palpable, vis-à-vis their aunt Fatima (played by Simone Singh) and her extra-marital affair – a bone of contention for the family.

Of Forbidden Love and Slut-Shaming

Simone Singh in a still from <i>Haq Se</i>.&nbsp;
Simone Singh in a still from Haq Se
(Photo Courtesy: Facebook/ALTBalaji)

Fatima’s story is where the politics of Kashmir impregnates Haq Se. A subject of prying eyes and wagging tongues, Fatima is the “other woman” in the life of a powerful man. She is a woman he can, at most, have a surreptitious affair with. But he will never choose Fatima over his begum, izzat and rutba. Entangled in a complex web of politics and love, she becomes the subject – in whispers and in screams – of many unsavory tales. Simone Singh plays beautifully a wounded soul who is broken by the world she lives in and in a way is symptomatic of a Kashmir battling bewafai, pain and neglect.

There is sickening dose of slut-shaming and a complete rejection of love that doesn’t have social sanction – a typical chauvinistic patriarchal mindset at display. But to the credit of the makers, they remonstrate this hypocritical morality through Jannat. At one point she says, “Khushiyan aur insaaf milte nahi hai, cheenne padte hai...

This is perhaps as true of Kashmir as of Fatima – both embroiled in a battle for their wajood. Whether we wish to agree with it or not is our prerogative, the writers choosing not to supersede one view point over the other.

The Roadblocks

Where Haq Se falters is in the pointless caricaturisation of the 17-year-old Amal Mirza. She is the Lydia Beckham of the Mirza house – a frivolous teenager, a complete misfit. This is not to say that being a misfit is a bad thing but her character does little to take the narrative forward. We would instead want to see more of Bano in the coming episodes.

Some scenes are overtly dramatic like a glass of champagne thrown at Fatima’s face to chide the impious woman out of a pious nikaah ceremony. The constant squabble between Jannat and Amal is sometimes irritable. This undeniably reeks of a haywire indulgence in melodrama – something Indian makers are still struggling with.

Dr Naushad Rizvi

Rajeev Khandelwal as Dr Naushad Rizvi in <i>Haq Se</i>.&nbsp;
Rajeev Khandelwal as Dr Naushad Rizvi in Haq Se
(Photo Courtesy: Facebook/ALTBalaji)

The domestic and the public intersect taking the narrative forward. Along the way, we come across the very charming but visibly bitter Dr Naushad Rizvi, played to perfection by Rajeev Khandelwal. It has been a while since we last saw Rajeev on screen but by choosing to play Dr Rizvi, he has managed to make a riveting comeback of sorts.

The character is rendered tenderly and has multiple layers to it. Dr Rizvi dons an acerbic demeanour, which at times feels forced, but as the plot unravels we are told why. The bickering between him and Meher hit us as hard, sometimes unnecessary interventions in an otherwise gripping narrative. But the undercurrents of a potential love story are too strong and this is where the makers fall prey to predictability.

But I would laud them for not letting Rajeev’s stardom seduce them into making him the ‘hero’ of the story. Because in this story, there are no heroes. Only aspirations and negotiations.

Watch Haq Se for Kashmir which gets reflected through the eyes of the Mirza sisters. Watch it for the inimitable Rajeev Khandelwal, who creates yet another memorable character in Dr Naushad Rizvi. Watch it perhaps to apprehend the angst of the Kashmiris beyond the cacophony of stone-pelting and countless crackdowns.

(Haq Se airs on ALT Balaji. This piece is based on the first three episodes of the series.)