In a valley of astonishing beauty, a small family lives in an idyllic house; a father, a mother, a son. They are a picture of happiness and love. But appearances are deceptive.
This pastoral landscape is the strife-torn valley of Kashmir, and the son, Altaaf, is an orphan of war who has been adopted by a policeman, Inayat Khan (Sanjay Dutt), and his wife, Neelima (Sonali Kulkarni). Altaaf is slowly recovering from the psychic wounds of seeing his parents and his young sister shot to death before his eyes by a masked man.
One day, Altaaf discovers that the man he now calls 'Abba' is the same masked intruder who killed his defenceless family during a firefight with militants. In that single moment of discovery, a warrior is born. Altaaf puts on the same mask that Khan wore during the fatal fight and flees into darkness.
Ten years later, a famed guerrilla fighter named Hilal Kohistani (Jackie Shroff) leads a determined band of men into the valley of Kashmir. These men are renegades who pride themselves on their distance from any other militant groups or government agencies. They are completely unknown and unsupported, and so are eager to make a worldwide reputation for themselves at one stroke.
The group is on a highly secret mission code, named 'Mission Kashmir', a closely guarded plan that will change the map of the subcontinent forever. For Hilal Kohistani, this all-important end justifies any means. He is absolutely willing to sacrifice millions of human lives, feelings, love, faith.
To successfully complete this mission, Hilal Kohistani needs a fearless soldier, a finely trained fighter whose deadly combat skills and burning anger will drive him unerringly to the target like a missile. Hilal Kohistani has just such a man: Altaaf (Hrithik Roshan).
And so Altaaf comes back to the streets and bylanes of his childhood. He fights for Hilal Kohistani, but he is also obsessed with his own private mission: he wants to, he must kill the masked intruder who haunts his nightmares -- Inayat Khan. In Srinagar, he meets his childhood sweetheart, Sufi (Preity Zinta), who is now a vivacious television reporter. In her beauty, compassion and optimism, Altaaf rediscovers love and hope.
And yet, Altaaf is consumed by his hatred for Khan. As the countdown for 'Mission Kashmir' ticks relentlessly closer towards an apocalypse, Altaaf and Khan engage in a duel to the death. The fate of Kashmir will depend on the outcome of their final, ferocious encounter.
The basic premise of the story ? of a 10-year-old's hatred for his father to the extent of eliminating him ? is the scoring point of Vinod Chopra Productions' MISSION KASHMIR, a film that takes a closer look at terrorism in strife-torn Kashmir. But the film goes haywire in the first half, for too much emphasis is given to the revenge aspect, than to the problems faced by Kashmiris.
The film does not come across as hard-hitting as it promises, also because the director has not bothered to explain to the viewers the mission Jackie Shroff undertakes. The helpless viewer seems confused and has no clue of what's going on in the minds of the terrorists.
But the screenplay does come alive in the second half, when Hilal's (Jackie) motive is crystal clear ? blowing up of Hazratbal and Shankaracharya -- which in turn would ignite communal riots between Hindus and Muslims.
The second half has some moments that linger in your memory, like:
* Sanjay Dutt confronting Sonali immediately after she meets Hrithik;
* Sonali's body being blown up by a bomb, which was actually planted for assassinating Sanjay Dutt.
But the sequences are not enough to elevate the film. For, the drama does not excite the viewer like it did in ROJA, which also tackled the Kashmir issue. Nor does one feel sorry for the protagonist. Also, the emotions between the mother (Sonali Kulkarni) and son (Hrithik) seem superficial.
But the final half-an-hour adds the much-needed excitement to the goings-on, compensating for the flaws. The clash of Sanjay and Hrithik is brilliantly executed and the shot taking can easily be compared to a Hollywood flick.
Director Vidhu Vinod Chopra has tried to attempt something different, but along with his team of writers, he should've concentrated on making the script exhilarating. With so much happening in Kashmir, Chopra should've projected the anguish of the helpless Kashmiris and the reasons that prompt the innocent to choose the path of terrorism.
The blowing up of the TV tower or Preity unfolding the mission to Sanjay Dutt in the climax should've been simplified for the common man to decipher. The romance between Hrithik and Preity also leaves a lot to be desired.
Binod Pradhan's cinematography is excellent. The camera movements are brilliant and the lighting in the climax deserves the highest praise. Shankar-Ehsan-Loy's music is quite pleasant. The film has three lilting numbers ? 'Bumbroo', 'Chupke Se Sun' and 'Rin Posh Maal'. Dialogues are natural.
Sanjay Dutt excels in the role of Inayat Khan. The emotional sequences are proof enough that he has matured as a performer. One of his finest performances, Sanju lends the role the maturity it deserves. Jackie Shroff, in a striking get-up, is competent.
But it is Hrithik Roshan who, once again, brightens up the screen with his magnetic presence. His body language, coupled with his expressions, is sure to win him plaudits. Preity Zinta is better than her previous attempts, though her characterisation should've been stronger. Sonali Kulkarni is a welcome addition to the list of talented character actresses.
On the whole, MISSION KASHMIR boasts of an impressive title-value, face-value (star cast) and initial-value (terrific opening) to reap a harvest in the Diwali holiday week. But a long run is ruled out since the film lacks a solid script to attract audiences for a repeat viewing.