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Wednesday, June 7, 2023

The Kashmir Files Review: An Unsettling & Honest Narration Of Sheer Human Savagery

I’ve always heard about the Kashmiri Pandit Genocide in January 1990, but never learnt it at history lessons in school. It always concerned me how over 4,00,000 natives were compelled to flee their homes due to persecution by militants and radical Islamists. Stories of how thousands including Indian government officials, scholars and women were viciously violated and slaughtered, rattled my soul.

News of this ‘exodus’ (as it is termed), left me enraged and distraught with how a peaceful, harmless community is destroyed. But after 32 years of silence, director Vivek Ranjan Agnihotri sets out the truth. The Kashmir Files hopes to provide an unequivocal insight into how people were made refugees within their own land.

Applause for Agnihotri who seems to have dedicated a substantial amount of research. Reportedly, hours of interviews with survivors have been conducted and the book My Frozen Turbulence in Kashmir is referenced.

Above all, I particularly appreciate the focus he adapts. Rather than delve into a jingoistic chant, propaganda or insight communal conflict, the filmmaker sticks to how political negligence results in barbaric havoc. Both of which, he exhibits in a real, honest and comprehensible manner.

Having said that though, Vivek leaves no dearth in exhibiting the mass bloodshed. There are scenes where I had to look away because of the gruesome nature. Such sequences are not just horrific, but they make us empathise and ashamed of how human beings actually faced these atrocities in reality. It is deeply disturbing and shakes one from within. Like the Jallianwallah Bagh sequence in Sardar Udham, many acts of tyrannical annihilation here will shake your conscience.

Agnihotri opts to narrate the movie in a non-linear technique beginning from the 90s to the modern-day, when Article 370, the statute which delegates separate national decision-making powers to Jammu & Kashmir region, is revoked.

As a viewer, this constant switch between time periods adds a sinister touch to the issue – how the grim past continues to haunt us in the present. It requires the viewer to stay gripped and engaged we truly are.

Enhancing the cinematic appeal, Vivek uses wide and close-up shots. Many of these engulf audiences, catapulting them into the icy and dark world. Wide shots of a Kashmiri night and huts being blown up into embers provide imminent peril. It leaves the audience feeling helpless and guilty too.

Objects also play pivotal roles with dilapidated houses playing instrumental characters. The graffiti of racist and Hinduphobic slurs are equally enraging and heartbreaking. Yet, they individually and silently narrate their own story of discrimination. Udaysingh Mohite’s crisp cinematography and Rohit Sharma’s soul-stirring background score contribute massively in the technical department.

I also observed the usage of brown and blue colours within the movie. Blue may be associated with freedom and liberation of sorts, whereas brown could represent resilience and safety. This colour scheme is quite symbolic of the conflict highlighted in The Kashmir Files. How one group of humans (or militants) are fighting for separatist measures while the others are fighting for safety. It’s intriguing how such visual tropes are fused with facts, stats and differing perspectives within the picture.

The story is told through the lens of various aspects of the genocide. Pushker Nath Pandit (Anupam Kher), Sharda (Bhasha Sumbli), Krishna (Darshan Kumaar) and Shiva are a victimised family. Though Krishna is brainwashed by the pseudo-liberal academic/activist Professor Radhika Menon (Pallavi Joshi).

Brahma Dutt IAS (Mithun Chakraborty) and DGP Hari Narain (Puneet Issar) depict the helpless law enforcement personnel in the valleys. Farooq Malik Bitta (Chinmay Mandlekar) and Afzal (Saurav Verma) pose as the perpetrators, evoking terror against the Kashmiri Hindus and India. Each actor delivers formidable performances.

In fact, career-defining work by Joshi, Sumbli, Mandlekar and Kumaar (he is outstanding). Legends like Chakborty, Kher and Issar are institutions themselves. To be frank, a separate review is required for the performances.

Personally, I could not find any obvious loopholes within the film but perhaps the length may be a slight issue. Given the grim and vicious depiction of violence, it can be a hard pill to swallow. But at the same time, this HAPPENED.

No matter which political ideology one follows, one cannot negate that January 1990 in Kashmir was a massacre. To deny this fact would be denying humanism and most importantly, justice.

The persecution faced by the Jewish community is very well-documented and The Kashmir Files is equivalent for Kashmiri Hindus. An unsettling and powerful endeavour by Mr Agnihotri. His sincerest and bravest work yet.

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ (5/5 stars)

Anuj Radia
Journalist and film enthusiast.

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