The Kashmir tragedy has deep roots. Over decades of endless cycles of violence, waves of separatism, infiltration of Pakistani-funded terrorist groups and latent discontent among the population, scholarly works and journalistic exercises have dug deep in order to dig and explore . As is always the case with complex stories of places and people, we had stories based on which aspect of the issue they were interested in.
The last time Bollywood mentioned the exodus of Kashmiri Pandits from the Valley was in the 2020s’shikara‘, directed by Vidhu Vinod Chopra. by Vivek Ranjan AgnihotriThe Kashmir Files‘ develops this narrative and makes it the only lens through which he sees it. From the beginning, we know which way the sympathies of the film lie; as for ‘The Kashmir Files’, it was not an ‘exodus’, it was a ‘genocide’, in which thousands of Kashmiri Hindus were massacred, women were raped, children were shot at close 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, carrying the ashes of Pushkar Nath, and with the help of his grandfather’s closest friends (Mithun Chakraborty, Puneet Issar, Atul Srivastava) learns lessons that distress and awaken him. He managed to live, strange as it may seem, without knowing the terrible circumstances in which his grandfather sought to save him: even your average student of the red brick university he attends (JNU, under a another name) would have at least a modicum of knowledge of the recent history of Kashmir, and how after Jagmohan there was an exodus of Pandits, and how they were trucked to Jammu, to lead a miserable life in snake and scorpion camps.
The artifice of an ignorant character is useful in a film like this. Krishna was oblivious to the terrors his family faced, as he was a baby in his arms when they fled. Conniving Muslim neighbors who point out hideouts, bearded Islamist terrorists who have unspoken ties to suspect universities in Delhi whose “leftist” professors (Pallavi Joshi) “brainwash” students in catchy “Azaadi” slogans: it’s all the. Atul Kulkarni, who plays a cowardly television journalist, is made to say something interesting about how the rock throwers and slogan shouters appeared when the international media came to watch them, and how they would melt as soon as this group reportedly left town, allowing the rally to use words like “fake media”. But it’s not a film that cares about nuance: it’s mass, especially in the way it stages its gory killings and lynchings, which make you shudder and close your eyes.
There may be other films that would bring together other points of view; it does not address, for example, how people continue to be killed even after the repeal of Article 370, and what that says about the “vaadi” today. “The Kashmir Files” is not that movie and does not claim to be. In all the appalling excesses it shows (a terrorist forcing a woman to sup on her husband’s blood, a living woman sawn in two), what emerges is the deep anger of the pundits of Kashmir: the fires were borne but the embers are still burning. It’s a film that stokes those embers, doesn’t examine the way forward – what else are we supposed to think when it closes in on the face of a young boy, shot point-blank in the forehead?
With all his propaganda verve and cementing the privileged discourse of the present dispensation, he manages to tap into the grief of the displaced Pandits. What we are left with are the flashes of genuine pain that envelop Pushkar Nath (Anupam Kher in a believable bend, even if some of its portions are overworked), damaged and demented, but who has never forgotten his well- beloved Habba Kadal. He will never be able to go home again.
The cast of Kashmir Files: Anupam Kher, Mithun Chakraborty, Puneet Issar, Darshan Kumaar, Pallavi Joshi, Mrinal Kulkarni, Atul Srivastava, Chinmay Mandlekar
The director of Kashmir Files: Vivek Ranjan Agnihotri
Kashmir Files Note: 1.5 stars