Beautiful faces, smiling faces, saddened faces, perturbed faces... The Kashmir that we see in debutant director Shoojit Sircar's "Yahaan" is a valley of mystery and joy. Cinematographer Jakob Ishre has used blue-tinged lenses to highlight the mood of doom and beauty.
There have been at least two other films earlier where love has unfolded in the midst of Kashmiri militancy - Vinod Chopra's "Mission Kashmir" and Ashok Pandit's "Sheen".
"Yahaan" gets close to the romance and brutal realism of the Valley without losing out on the basic aesthetic value of the story.
Director Sircar takes his time to build up a romance. The early sequences showing the army officer Captain Aman (Jimmy Shergill) darting open-mouthed looks at the Kashmiri girl Adaa (Minissha Lamba) are punctuated by bouts of humour and caustic statements.
"It's hard to believe Shammi Kapoor used to dance here," comments Aman wrily in the freezing cold of militant vigilance.
"Who's Shammi Kapoor? And why did he dance here?" wonders a child who overhears the army man.
"Yahaan" dwells and builds on those little moments that make a difference between casual sex and a lasting relationship. The film draws a very fine line between values to cherish and those that fall off the wayside after the first flush of excitement.
Though the narrative often goes into mushy territory it nonetheless shoots off darts that distinguish between candyfloss and something a little more substantial.
The second-half when Aman is accused of collaborating with a dreaded terrorist (Yashpal Sharma), who happens to be Aman's future brother-in-law, gets into a trot mode, pushing the narrative to an engaging finale.
The climax, evidently inspired by the militant siege of the Hazrat Bal mosque in Kashmir is done with considerable Úlan. Though Sircar's politics tends to get simplistic at times, his understanding of the basic language of the heart sees him through. He constantly focuses on the characters as individuals rather than prototypes.
For a film that has terrorism at its centre, "Yahaan" takes a surprisingly sympathetic view of the function of the press. The female journalist who gives Adaa a chance to have her anguished say on television is no newshound but actually sympathetic to the heroine's cause.
The militants too are imagined with a fair amount of dignity and compassion. In fact moderation is the key to Shoojit Sircar's statements on the happenings in the Valley.
Jimmy Shergill, always a dependable actor, gets into the uniform - if not the skin - of his army man's character. Newcomer Minissha gets the tone of her character right. But she doesn't seem to know where to go beyond the basic role-call of her transference from girl to woman. Still, it's a brave and difficult character played with admirable dignity.
The supporting cast is expansive but not vast. Some of the peripheral players make an impression despite little space. The little girl Juhi who plays Adaa's mute orphaned companion manages to breathe vitality into the narrative that's often sacrificed for the sake of accessibility.
"Yahaan" isn't an outstanding romantic parable on the politics of love. But its aesthetic content is high enough to make you smile. The dialogues by Piyush Mishra are fine and funny as long as they don't get into polemical discussions on Kashmir.
"Yahaan" doesn't waste much footage in finding the centre. It knows love has no surfaces and angles. Watch it for its socio-political relevance as structured around an un-annoying romance.