The Kashmir Files (R18, 170 mins), directed by Vivek Agnihotri ***½
It’s hard not to walk into this film without being aware of the controversies surrounding it – in terms of its background and its reception in India (as a state-sponsored film), or with regard to his reclassification here in Aotearoa New Zealand.
Thus, any examination of The Kashmir Files should recognize how multi-layered and complex the issues are, and therefore can only really scratch the surface.
This scraping, to continue the analogy, offers the viewer a small window into the mass exodus of Kashmiri Pandits from Kashmir in the 1990s. Director Vivek Agnihotri uses a fictionalized script, interspersed with flashbacks, to intimately depict the effects of the ensuing conflict over families and friends. The region has always been highly contested, especially religiously, with Islam being the most dominant religion and Hinduism one of the minority religions. Politically, Kashmir is at the center of a territorial dispute between India, Pakistan and China.
* ‘The Kashmir Files’ brings back painful memories for some at Auckland screening
* Chief censor reclassifies Kashmir files after concern from Muslim community
* ‘The Kashmir Files’ is not a fictional film, according to New Zealand’s Hindu Community
* Chief censor reviews classification of Kashmir files after Muslim community concerns
* R18 films that may no longer deserve this classification
The story is told through the eyes of Krishna Pandit (Darshan Kumaar), who was a baby at the time of the exodus and returns to Kashmir 30 years later to scatter the ashes of his late grandfather. Krishna’s grandfather, Pushkar Nath Pandit, is played by veteran actor Anupam Kher (Hotel Mumbai, New Amsterdam) which, in my opinion, gives the most compelling performance in the film. The way he embodied his breakup following what his family went through, coupled with an intense desire to return home, was incredibly moving.
More than the actual conflict, what the film also tries to convey is the inner conflict that plagues the characters. Krishna ends up torn between the heated and passionate struggle for freedom centered around his university and uncovering the truth about his family’s death and what really happened in Kashmir. A heated exchange took place in a scene between Pushkar’s former friends, where thoughts of betrayal and guilt resurfaced – who left? Who stayed behind? Who became a “traitor”?
The internal and external conflicts reveal one of the film’s two common threads – as journalist Vishnu Ram (Atul Srivastava), one of Pushkar’s friends, explained – war is about information and about stories. . And just like what we have seen in our current climate, the potential for misinformation is heightened. It was a particular sticking point in the film, which depicted the truth about Kashmir as having been covered up. Krishna talks about this in his speech as class president, mentioning that it was not only Kashmiri pundits who were targeted, but also people of other religions, including moderate Muslims.
The cinematography is so intense you could almost feel the weight of every scene, helped in large part by the film’s lighting contrasts and dark tones. The bird’s eye view and scenic photos of Kashmir in particular were breathtaking and the region’s wintry climate added to the overall feelings of loss, pain and suffering. There were also a few critical slow-motion scenes without sound, which were met with a heavy, palpable silence in the audience. Be aware though that the violence depicted is quite graphic and the higher R18 rating makes sense in this case.
One of Krishna’s university professors, Radhika Menon (Pallavi Joshi), mentions: 1) the importance of having political power to effect change and 2) the need for Krishna to decide what he is fighting for – “ Is it freedom? Is it right ? This revealed the second common thread and what stuck in my mind after the film – the reality that sometimes in wartime or other exceptional circumstances, dichotomies are of no use. That things aren’t always clear or black and white. That the lines between the aggressor and the victim, for example, can be blurred, and that everyone suffers in one way or another.
This is not to diminish the need for justice or to tell the right story, but rather that in these wars – whether physical, internal or narrative – it is essential that the raw humanity of such tragedies not be obscured.
The words of Brahma Dutt (Mithun Chakraborty) therefore ring true here: “Broken souls do not speak; they must be heard.
The Kashmir Files is now showing in select theaters nationwide.