The Kashmir tragedy has deep roots. Over the decades of endless cycles of violence, waves of separatism, infiltration by Pakistan-funded terrorist groups, and simmering discontent among the people, academic papers and journalistic exercises have dug deep to unearth and explore. As is always the case with complex stories of places and people, we had accounts based on what aspect of the subject they were interested in.
The last time Bollywood brought up the exodus of Kashmiri pandits from the valley was in 2020.Shikara‘, produced by Vidhu Vinod Chopra. Vivek Ranjan AgnihotrisThe Kashmir Files“expands that narrative and makes it the only lens through which he views it. From the start we know which side the film’s sympathies are on; as for The Kashmir Files, it wasn’t an “exodus”, it was a “genocide” in which thousands of Kashmiri Hindus were massacred, women raped, children shot at point blank range: even today these families live as refugees.
The emotional center of the film is Pushkar Nath Pandit (Anupam Kher), a teacher who is evicted from his home in Srinagar after his son is brutally killed. Thirty years later, his grandson Krishna (Darshan Kumaar) returns to Srinagar with the ashes of Pushkar Nath and, with the help of his grandfather’s closest friends (Mithun Chakraborty, Puneet Issar, Atul Srivastava), learns lessons that torment and awaken him. He managed to live, strange as it may sound, without knowing the horrific circumstances in which his grandfather tried to save him: himself an average student at the Red Brick University he attends (JNU, among another Names) would have at least one knowledge of the recent history of Kashmir and how the pandits exuded after Jagmohan and how they were transported to Jammu to eke out a miserable life in the snake and scorpion infested camps.
The feat of an ignorant character comes in handy in a movie like this. Krishna was unaware of the horrors his family faced as he was a baby in his arms when they fled. Accomplice Muslim neighbors pointing to hiding places, bearded Islamic terrorists who have tacit ties to suspicious Delhi universities whose “left” professors (Pallavi Joshi) “brainwash” students with evocative “Azaadi” slogans: It is everything here. Atul Kulkarni, who plays a cowardly TV journalist, is led to say something interesting about how the stone-throwers and the slogan-speakers would appear when the international media was watching, and how they would melt away once that force left town if they it allowed the congregation to use words like “fake media”. But this isn’t a film that cares about nuance: it’s a sledgehammer, especially in the way it orchestrates its bloody murders and lynchings that make you shudder and close your eyes.
There may be other films that would bring in different points of view; it doesn’t address, for example, how people are still being killed even after Article 370 is abolished and what that says about the “guard” today. The Kashmir Files is not that film and does not claim to be one. For all the ghastly excesses it depicts (a terrorist makes a woman drink her husband’s blood, a living woman is sawed in half), but the embers still burn. This is a film that stokes those embers, not explores the way forward – what else are we supposed to think when it hits the face of a boy who’s being shot in the forehead at point-blank range?
With all his propagandistic panache and adherence to the current dispensation’s favorite discourse, he succeeds in tapping into the grief of the expelled pandits. What we are left with are the flashes of genuine pain that envelop Pushkar Nath (Anupam Kher in a believable twist, even if some of his parts are overwrought) who is damaged and suffering from dementia but has never forgotten his beloved Habba Kadal. He can never go home again.
Cast of The Kashmir Files: Anupam Kher, Mithun Chakraborty, Puneet Issar, Darshan Kumaar, Pallavi Joshi, Mrinal Kulkarni, Atul Srivastava, Chinmay Mandlekar
The director of The Kashmir Files: Vivek Ranjan Agnihotri
The Kashmir File Review: 1.5 stars