When you sit down to write a review of a film, there are usually two things that you give attention to – Content and Craft. It is natural that when a film is based on real events, the focus is more on the Content to see if the film does justice to the piece of history it is based on. Unfortunately and I am embarrassed as I say this, as far the piece of history on which The Kashmir Files is based on, which is the killing and subsequent mass migration of Kashmiri Pandits from the Kashmir valley, my references were limited.
Much of the detailing of what happened back then in Kashmir from 1988 onwards, I could only comprehend after I watched the film or read related stories in the past few days after the film hit the headlines. In terms of content, the film is as hard hitting as it can get. Director Vivek Agnihotri chooses a visual style that is meant to create a “Shock and Awe” among viewers. He has no intention to soften the impact and from that point of view, I must say that the film leaves a desired sobering impact on viewers.
Now, the Kashmir issue is itself very complex and has many dimensions. All of them have now mangled over a period of time which is what makes it a humungous problem to solve with instant fixes. From cross border terrorism to Jihad to domestic militancy to radical islamisation to ethnic cleansing of Pandits to failure of administration to double standards of politics, the Kashmir issue today straddles many social, political, military, history and geography hot buttons. But, in The Kashmir Files, Agnihotri decides to stay rifle focused on one issue that is of the plight of Kashmiri Pandits with a view to bring in a larger awareness on a topic that had historically very low traction, somehow. And you can’t blame him for that.
The intense research the makers have done shows. Meticulous attention has been given on re-creating some of the horrific but landmark incidents. Some of the incidents and the persons involved have been jumbled, I suppose for deliberate reasons. For example, Yasin Malik and Bitta Karate the two militants who had a big role that lead to the exodus of Pandits, have been morphed into one and therefore their individual actions are being shown as being done by one person. Overall, in terms of content, Agnihotri has done a marvelous job in putting together what he had heard, read and watched of the material available on Kashmiri Pandits. At the end of the film in the movie hall I watched, there was a stunned silence and one could realise that the film had landed right where it was intended.
Now, coming to the Craft, I must say that it was far better than I expected based on Agnihotri’s earlier films. The film had high impact opening and ending sequences which were filmed very well. The closing sequence in particular is bound to have a chilling and emotional impact on many for a long, long time. Agnihotri chooses to narrate the story through the eyes of the grandson of a Kashmiri Pandit which in itself is not a bad idea. But, he doesn’t stay loyal to this idea throughout. There are flash back sequences that pop up otherwise as well that disturb the flow.
The sequences showing the coming together of 4 friends after a long while, loosen the tempo and are not written well. In fact, the character of an IAS Officer, Brahma Dutt played by Mithun Chakraborty is confusingly written and Mithun’s portrayal of the role also was disappointing. But one thing is, in the conception of the four characters – one an IAS officer, one a senior cop, one a reporter and the other a doctor, Agnihotri in a way conveys to us the failure and helplessness of the administration, police and the media during that period.
Placing the grandson character amidst campus politics in “ANU” in Delhi is a smart idea where the director doesn’t miss the opportunity to convey how impressionable minds are corrupted by left liberals in campuses. However, the monologue at the end on Kashmir gets too long and showing how students swing sides based in one speech was very wishful.
Any screen play can only get its due if it’s played by the right cast. Anupam Kher as an affected Kashmiri Pandit plays the role of his lifetime by getting under the skin of the character. He brings right in front of our eyes the pain, the agony, the frustration, the helplessness and at the same a steely resolve of a man who has seen it all. I am not sure if anyone else could have done this role better than Kher. Among the other cast, Darshan Kumar, as the young Pandit studying in Delhi almost oblivious of the struggle and ignominy his family went through, is impressive. He of course gets overwhelmed in that monologue scene a bit. The characterisation of Pallavi Joshi as Radhika Menon is played up for effect but she does a competent job. The other actor to impress was Chinmay Mandlekar who plays the role of the terrorist, Bitta.
Agnihotri and his team of cinematographer, editor, sound engineer and background scorer manage to bring in front of our eyes the “Mahaul” of Kashmir of that period very well. The scenes building up to the start of the killings are all shot and framed well.
The film does sound propagandist at times particularly when it chooses to omit characters and scenes that doesn’t suit the narrative. It may also sound islamophobic in parts and some of the extreme reactions we saw in some theatres could be because of this. It also strays into becoming a documentary particularly when actors get into lengthy dialogues to drive home a point. There are times the film slackens exactly because of these reasons.
Leaving aside these inadequacies, I must say that The Kashmir Files is a film that needs to be watched and needed not just a “Flash review” but a detailed one.
I wonder how the mainline print media was missing in action in that time. For a person who was a keen follower of current affairs even back then, I don’t recall seeing many detailed stories on the killings of Kashmir Pandits in newspapers. It’s only much later when I got acquainted with Kashmiri colleagues that I started getting a feel of the problem.
I do believe that in re-telling history, there can’t be “Rashomon effect”. But in India, that’s exactly what has happened because of which history has lost its credibility. Telling the truth as it is, is important if we have to come to terms with it. What The Kashmir Files has done, is just that. It has brought back to focus in a hard-hitting manner, a forgotten past in Independent India that didn’t get its due attention. Catharsis is the word we hear often these days when people talk of this film. I hope we will see closure also which is, the return of Kashmiri Pandits to their homes with dignity and pride, soon.