Enough has already been written in praise of a cinematic epic in the making and more shall definitely be written. But this article is from the standpoint of an ordinary Hindu, the Hindu who was educated in a secular education system and was taught to feel “bhaichara” from the moment he could spell. Never has a movie made as great an impact in the history of Indian cinema and never has it questioned its viewers and jolted their conscience as it has today. From the vantage point of an ordinary Hindu, it has been nothing short of revolution.
“The Kashmir Files” by Mr. Vivek Agnihotri marks a watershed moment in the history of Hindi cinema. At a time of sagging public interest and increasing distrust against this art medium, the movie has done much service to both the story it aimed to convey and the medium in which it has conveyed it. The cast of the movie has gone above and beyond public expectations, excelling at portraying a topic that is extremely sensitive, in a raw-to-the-bones brutally honest fashion. The portrayal of the simple-minded trusting Professor Pushkar Nath Pandit who had lived all his life in Kashmir and has grown immune to the anti-India separatist rallies and demonstrations is a testament to the “eternally sleeping Hindu” who has grown accustomed to the rhythms of his social life without enquiring as to its implications. The movie is riveting from the start – bombarding its viewers point blank with the gory images of the events as they took place in the Valley in that fateful year of 1990.
The movie has a strong affinity for the truth and skillfully depicts the sheer terror experienced by the Hindus of Kashmir in those few days leading up to the genocide. The loud wails of Sharda Pandit echo in our ears as we see Bitta Karate and his accomplices gun down her husband hiding in the rice drum. But we are also confronted by the monstrosity that follows this gruesome murder – Sharda is forced to eat the blood-soaked rice from the rice drum as a price to save the rest of her family. The helplessness of the Kashmiri Hindu community – the hate, the genocidal rage, the iconoclastic fury , the sheer apathy of the central government and the antipathy of the Kashmiri administration is clearly portrayed as it shows the then CM of the state, willingly conspiring with known terrorists like Bitta Karate to cleanse the valley of its Hindu inhabitants. The majoritatrian hate of the common Kashmiri Muslim against a micro-minority, who made no hesitation in displaying it, is clearly visible in it from the active collusion of the state administration with the terrorists to the Muslim women who would throw away the rice and grain supplies so that the Pandit families would starve to the vegetable-seller who returned change in Pakistani rupees in a manner to intimidate the Hindu Kashmiris is more than evident. Indeed, the movie makes no attempt at political correctness and rightly so, we see the treachery of neighbors and friends who acted as informants to the terrorists in a glaring attempt to gain the lands, properties and in many cases, the women of the Kashmiri Hindu community. The active collaboration of the local society is not whitewashed and “The Kashmir Files” does justice to the plight of the lakhs of Kashmiri Hindus who were killed due the active abetment of the people whom they had trusted with their lives.
However, the movie does not just end here. It raises questions at each and every segment of the Indian state and Hindu society. The travesty that follows is as bad as the genocide. The Indian education system is rightly stomped on,and the urban naxals exemplified in the character of Radhika Menon and the institution of ANU is portrayed in the light that it deserves. The brainwashed, rootless Hindu youth is emblematic in the character of Krishna Pandit who, having been completely aloof of his heritage and ignorant of the fate of his parents and his elder brother, is brainwashed into supporting the same cause for Azadi that killed them and exiled him from his home. The struggle and turmoil that he went through, as he reconciled his present circumstances and beliefs with the doddering image of his ailing grandfather, exiled, traumatized and unable to prevent the loss of his only surviving grandchild to the ideological vultures that killed his family. We see not only the emotional struggle, the constant mental back-and-forth as he faces the untruth and the abject ignorance that he had regarding how his parents and his brother died. Through the characters of the friends of Mr. Pushkarnath Pandit , we are introduced to the faults and the flaws, the unwillingness and incapacity of a society that had been neutered by the system that they had reposed their trust in. From Brahma Dutt, the patriotic civil servant to the sympathetic Dr. Mahesh Kumar to the hot-headed but brave DGP Hari Narayan to the journalist Vishnu Ram – we are greeted by a wall of silence, inaction, guilt and shame. In them, we see a mirror to ourselves as the collective Hindu society, who for whatsoever reason, due to circumstances, ignorance, belief or just plain inaction did not put in action when it was required the most.
“The Kashmir Files” is a cinematic masterpiece, unlike any made in Hindi cinema for a very long time. Its focus on content, its authenticity, its brutal honesty, its lack of “masala” so to speak and the willingness to show the truth like the sledgehammer that it is, has made it what it is today. The film has no pretensions to any imaginary ray of hope – the trauma is real and if it feels heavy, it is only because we have been unaware of it for so long. Watching it one realizes the sheer transience of so many things that one invests great value in as our convictions, ideals and imagination are stripped by the realism inherent in it. It is not that the movie has no flaws of its own – the scenes could probably have been better aligned and the agony of Mr. Pushkarnath Pandit and the mental confusion of Krishna Pandit could have been delved into more deeply and completely. However, despite whatever shortcomings it may have, the movie is an eye-opener – a glimpse into the real horrors of the past that we have had as a society and what we may face lest we do urgent course correction.
Few movies have had as big of an impact as this movie has and there is a long way to go, both for the movie and the message it intends to propagate. The movie ends as it had begun on a note of tension, grief and pregnant with tragedy – the eyes of the young Shiva Pandit staring back at us, the audience, questioning our mute silence as the scene fades away. The least we can do is to watch him and remember the many millions who perished away like him unknown, uncared for and forgotten.
DISCLAIMER: The author is solely responsible for the views expressed in this article. The author carries the responsibility for citing and/or licensing of images utilized within the text.