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War movies like Uri glorify the dehumanisation of soldiers and their targets, no matter how patriotic we feel about them. Is this what we want to teach our kids?
About half a year ago, I remember walking out of a cinema hall, feeling heavy-hearted. I’d just watched Raazi, and the sheer futility of war hit me right in the face. Today, I walked out of the same cinema hall that showed another film: Uri, and walked out with the same feeling of heaviness in my heart.
Uri tells the story of the violent difference between India and Pakistan – these are violent conflicts at work, just that they aren’t open wars in the way that we know wars to be. And in this understanding, men exchange fire, knife the life out of one another, throw grenades into enemy quarters, and set fire to property they don’t own on screen.
In these moments, they all blur into one another: an amorphous assortment of flesh and fire, loud voices and gunshots.
In these moments, they’re all dehumanized.
Think about it, if you’ve watched the film: isn’t it a shock to see the hate in Vicky Kaushal’s character’s eyes as he sprays bullets in a scene that comes closely at the heels of another where he has nothing but pure love for his mother, who is struggling to get out of Alzheimer’s grasp? Isn’t it absolutely chilling to see Yami Gautam’s character unflinchingly torturing a man as she interrogates him – just a few scenes after she gently reads a story out to a grandmother and a grandchild curled up in bed? This arguably speaks volumes of Vicky Kaushal’s and Yami Gautam’s acting skills – but that’s not what this is about.
To see a child cry out in agony at the loss of her father to violent conflict is nothing shy of heartrending – because this cry could belong to a child anywhere: Kashmir, Palestine, Syria, Yemen… And it is this that makes you find this dehumanization to be scary: very, very scary.
One of the early things we learn in our lives is that practice makes perfect – or at least near perfect. It is this unrelenting practice of violence that has led us to get better at it: sophisticated armaments, unfathomable depths of tools for espionage and monitoring, high-precision weapons and much more. If we’d given peace as much of a chance as we’ve given violence, our lands would be a lot less red.
Films like Raazi and Uri speak to a particular idea of patriotic fervor and nationalism – ideas and beliefs that anyone is free to espouse, so no questions there. But they are also films that lead you to reflect: especially on the bigger picture if you’re willing to pay attention. I’m willing to bet that a majority of us in the cinema halls watching this film have no experience of what it is to live life in a war zone.
We don’t know what it is to be confined indoors for fear of someone opening fire, or for fear of stepping on something that could explode. We don’t recognize the privilege we enjoy. We forget that the wars waged across borders drawn on maps are fought by foot soldiers on ground, and commandeered by a battalion sitting in air conditioned rooms who are fully in their power to turn those very rooms into negotiation tables. And so, when we are shown a film in under three hours, we forget to notice the underlying subtext that we should be taking home.
These films lead us to question our violent, warlike ways: if only we are listening. But, theatres full of people that applauded the film in the end seem to reiterate that we don’t seem to be likely to abandon violence as our preferred mode of engagement.
Down the aisle in the row that I sat, was a little boy of five. Dressed in red, he sat deep inside an enormous seat that nearly swallowed him. For parts of the film that I couldn’t palate, I would bend down, looking at my knees, the walls on the side – anywhere but the screen. And in many of those moments, I found this little boy sitting on the edge of the seat, lapping up the goings-on on screen. My heart sank at the sight of him being served up so much violence on screen. As I queued to leave, I heard him tell his father, “Main soldier ban ke sab ko shoot karunga!” Raucous laughter followed from his parents and their friends.
My heart shattered to a hundred pieces as I left the hall.
Image source: a still from the movie Uri: A Surgical Strike
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