The Kashmir Files a massive wake-up call to our consciences

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Darshan Kumaar and Anupam Kher in The Kashmir Files. Photo: Trailer Video Grab

First things first: whenever a movie disappoints, it is charitably said that it “had its heart in the right place”. Well, this one has its heart in the right place too, but it eminently does not disappoint! It disturbs, horrifies, even depresses, and is a massive wake-up call to our collective consciences—to us as a civilization purporting to be human.

After 32 years of the world’s largest genocide (yes, even bigger than that of the Jews by the Nazis, and other persecutions globally), we have to at least be made aware of the horrors that happened to the Kashmiri Pandits, and even more terrifying, of the most massive cover-up in human history.

Most Indians, including me, had little more than an inkling of what was happening in Kashmir, thanks to the manipulated media and the central and state governments there that actually helped the wrongdoers actively or passively. All news of a pogrom that involved half a million Kashmiri Pandits who were given the chilling message of “Raliv, Tsaliv ya Galiv (Convert, leave or die)” and the accompanying diktat to leave the women behind was revoltingly suppressed in a planned and total decimation of humanism.

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About the only deficiency of The Kashmir Files (a directorial triumph as Vivek Ranjan Agnihotri eschews subtleties in favor of direct graphic descriptions and visuals that appall, pain and torment us to make it hit where it matters) is its script (also by Vivek). With the exorbitant amount of videotaped first-hand and family descriptions by Kashmiri Pandits all over the world, he has too much matter to weave a script around them that flows smoothly.

His problem is obvious: certain things must be shown, others can be included or mentioned, but the worst horrors and angles must be presented. The director in him still wins despite the script’s tendency to be non-linear and a shade scattered. But that lack of smoothness is a shade jarring as a narrative, and the filmi tropes (like a single main ‘villain’ and his connection to one family) used to part-balance all this makes The Kashmir Files a shade inferior to Vivek’s earlier and smashing 2019 expose, The Tashkent Files.

That film was when both the script and direction (and the editing that forms the third leg of the three-legged stool that filmmaking is!) matched perfectly.

While there is no mention of real-life politicians, fundamentalists, separatists and activists (except for some newspaper headlines and radio announcements), Vivek uses fictional characters representing them in some cases, like Radhika Menon (Pallavi Joshi) to remind us that even academic institutions and history teachers opted to malign the original majority community and preach freedom (Azaadi) for Kashmir without either knowing or accepting facts. Radhika comes across as a blend of some separatists and left liberal activists and the college sequences (unintentionally?) show a similarity to far more recent JNU troubles.

The story is mainly narrated through the trials and travails of Pushkar Nath Pandit (Anupam Kher), a Kashmiri Pandit teacher, whose own student, Farooq Malik Bitta (Chinmay Mandlekar) terrorizes him and family. The convoluted train of incidents following Pushkar’s grandson, Shiva and his Muslim friend Abdul as they cheer for Sachin Tendulkar in 1990 in the snow-covered ground in Kashmir paves the way for what happened in the days to come.

A brutal murder by Bitta of Shiva’s father and his making Shiva’s mother eat the rice soaked in her husband’s blood sets the chilling beginning for a series of blood-curdling events. The real-life massacre of 24 Indian men and women, including a small child, the brutal treatment to women, including the scene of a woman being sliced by a mechanical saw, and many others send shivers down the spine.

However, what sent an even bigger tremble within me was the way Radhika, sporting a huge married woman’s teeka on her forehead, speaks for the separatists and brainwashes an entire student community. The fact that students can be influenced so easily against the interests of their own nation shows that the dangers of kowtowing to evil designs are not over even today.

The filmi angle begins when Krishna (Darshan Kumaar), Sharda’s then-infant son, with whom Pushkar Nath had fled, arrives in present-day Kashmir to scatter his grandfather’s ashes at his home (as per Pushkar Nath’s last wishes). His wrong beliefs on Kashmir and the 1990 happenings are gradually corrected by Pushkar’s friends and associates, notably Professor Brahma Dutt (Mithun Chakraborty in great form).

Helping Krishna to know the reality are Brahma’s friends DCP Hari Narayan (Puneet Issar), then television newsreader Vishnu (Atul Shrivastava) and Dr. Mahesh (Prakash Belawadi). These four men describe their own helplessness then. A meeting with Bitta confirms Krishna’s worst suspicions and he goes back to the college to illuminate everyone about the truth behind what happened, including what befell his mother Sharda (Bhasha Sumbli) and elder brother Shiva.

Despite the 2.50 hour narration (unlike other recent enterprises), the film does not ramble or get boring, only because the writing is based on real incidents. So every time a brutal display of human cruelty and communal discrimination shakes you, it unsettles you to the core as you realize that everything shown actually happened.

We realize what 500,000 men, women, boys and girls went through when they were systemically targeted in Kashmir, their homeland that had also seen previous upheavals, and was yet known far and wide for centuries as the epicenter of a proud and inclusive culture. Article 370 comes in too, as Pushkar Nath, now in an early stage of dementia, is shown demanding it from a visiting leader.

Shocking and unnerving as a show of utter, undiluted truth, The Kashmir Files is a must-watch document of history that will leave its scars on a complacent film buff who is used to watch fluff and occasional reality. It is augmented by mood-inducing outstanding camerawork by Udaysingh Mohite and an equally stirring background score by Rohit Sharma. The songs (Swapnil Bandodkar) barely register, but for the rendition of Faiz’s Hum dekhenge in a telling sequence.

The acting honors—besides Mithun— are shared by Anupam Kher in his fantastically nuanced essay of Pushkar Nath, Darshan Kumaar as Krishna coming into his own progressively as the narrative unfolds, Chinmay Mandlekar, who creates the right menace as Bitta and Pallavi Joshi as Radhika, who is so comfortably complacent and confident in her evil designs. Bhasha Sumbli as Sharda also makes a mark, as does Atul Shrivastava. Puneet Issar and Prakash Belawadi are alright. But the talented Mrunal Kulkarni has nothing to do.

This film has a lot to say. So when you like taking out time for entertainment at the movies, do invest three hours for this truthful reveal of a reality every global citizen needs to know.

Rating: ****

Zee Studios, Abhishek Agarwal Arts & I Am Buddha present The Kashmir Files Produced by: Tej Narayan Agarwal, Abhishek Agarwal, Pallavi Joshi & Vivek Ranjan Agnihotri  Directed by: Vivek Ranjan Agnihotri Written by: Vivek Ranjan Agnihotri & Saurabh M. Pandey  Music: Swapnil Bandodkar  Starring: Anupam Kher, Mithun Chakraborty, Darshan Kumaar, Chinmay Mandlekar, Pallavi Joshi, Mrinal Kulkarni, Atul Srivastava, Puneet Issar, Prakash Belawadi, Sourav Verma & others

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