Canadian film director Dylan Mohan Gray was right on the money when he alluded to The Kashmir Files as ‘hatemongering revisionist garbage of no artistic merit’.
by Zia Darakhshan
Bollywood’s love affair with the picturesque Kashmir dates back to the 60s and the 70’s. Back then, scores of films were set in the backdrop of the beautiful locales of the valley.
In the late 70s and the early 80s, who can forget Yash Chopra’s love affair with the enchanting beauty of Kashmir in superhits like Kabhi Kabhi (1976) and Silsila (1981). Yash Chopra shot a major part of Kabhi Kabhi in Kashmir and described the experience as his honeymoon. In Bobby (1973), the beauty of Kashmir made the love story even more appealing. Sunny Deol and Amrita Singh starrer Betaab (1983) enchanted the audience with its locations in Pahalgam. It was such a hit with the audience that the location, which was earlier known as Hagan Valley, was later renamed as Betaab Valley. It was love for Kashmir that Shammi Kapoor’s family immersed his ashes in Dal Lake.
From Dal Lake to the snow-capped mountains, Kashmir Ki Kali (1964) captured Kashmir at its best. The picturesque locations of Kashmir made Shammi Kapoor and Saira Banu’s film Junglee (1961) a treat to the eye. Jab Jab Phool Khile, the 1965 Shashi Kapoor-Nanda starrer, tells the tale of a simple and adorable Kashmiri guy who falls in love with a tourist. Henna (1991), starring Rishi Kapoor and Zeba Bakhtiar , revolves around the life of three people torn between India and Pakistan. The film was shot in the valley. The list is endless.
However, in the past two decades, very few Bollywood films have been shot in the valley.
Films like Hyder, Rockstar, Jab Tak Hai Jaan, Sargoshian have been lately shot in the valley and have not only entertained the cinegoers but also won appreciation for picturesque locations. Some of them received critical acclaim for the storyline and showcasing Kashmir in a factual manner.
To revive Bollywood’s love affair with Kashmir, the government of the J&K Union Territory revamped the film policy and Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha visited Mumbai to seek support of the film production houses. The concept was to bring back the lost glory of the valley through benefits to local artists and boost the tourism as well. The efforts yielded results as Bollywood stars are now opting for Kashmir to be their favourite destination for shooting. Many of them are overwhelmed by the beauty and hospitality of the Kashmiris.
However, the efforts of the UT administration seem to have taken a hit after Vivek Agnihotri released his controversial film, The Kashmir Files.
The film depicts the exodus of the Kashmiri Pandits from the Valley in the 1990s followed by the alleged genocide. The emotionally triggering film sheds light on the plight of Kashmiri Pandits, who were compelled to flee their homes after the onset of militancy in the valley at the fag end of 1989.
Overnight, the movie became a cause célèbre in India grabbing prime time space on news channels and social media and overshadowing Ukraine War and Covid -19 that consumed millions of lives worldwide.
Several Bollywood actors, media personalities, politicians and other celebrities are applauding Agnihotri. Some talk about the brilliance of the movie, while some get into sobs after watching the horrifying scenes. The film was promoted in a manner as if Agnihotri was the person who lifted the lid from the most closely guarded secret of Kashmir. The demonization of a Kashmiri Muslim is so sweeping that an uninitiated viewer sees him as a villain and every Kashmiri Pandit his victim. To stir the Hindu majoritarian sentiment further, Anupam Kher, in one of his interviews, literally apologized that Bollywood remained mum for so many years. This and many other such ruses only added fuel to the hateful propaganda that has been unleashed against the Indian Muslims in general and Kashmiri Muslims in particular after the release of the movie.
The film talks about purported atrocities committed by Kashmiri Muslims on the Pandit community in the 1990s that prompted them to flee their motherland. Through gruesome imagery, the film shows scores of Pandit family members executed in the most brutal fashion by militants with support from the local Muslims. While aggressively promoting his fiction as gospel truth, an impassioned Agnihotri told the media: “We have tried to show that when militancy enters a community and is given ideological support from a part of the society, it leads to disaster.” He claims that his movie is entirely based on facts, a claim that’s not backed by any research, documentation or media record.
The Kashmir Files has rejuvenated the business of multi-screens, shopping malls and YouTubers, thereby boosting the economy, claims Agnihotri. The movie, he says, has opened the eyes of the people who failed to admit the crime against Kashmiri Pandits. Most of Agnihotri’s claims are outrageous and they merit a thorough probe.
After I watched the movie, a 9-year old kid posed a question to me: “How come this happened in Kashmir? Didn’t we have police and administration back then? What were they doing when all this was happening?”
Before I could explain, the kid quickly added: “It seems everyone, the whole world, was in trance when such gory events were taking place here.”
What I could understand about The Kashmir Files is that the film has been made in a hurry without any research which, given the record and tendency of some of the people associated with it, including Agnihotri, doesn’t come as a surprise.
The film has targeted each and every sect of the Kashmiri Muslims not even sparing sufis and saints who are held in high esteem even by Kashmiri Pandits who visit their shrines just like Kashmiri Muslims do.
The film stereotypes Kashmiri Muslims across sects as perfidious, ferocious and wicked. Ask the tourists how the majority Muslims have treated them even in the worst of times and you get the answer.
The Kashmir Files portrays at length, through the most gruesome imagery possible, the alleged atrocities the Kashmiri Muslims perpetrated against Kashmiri Pandits. The very fact that a sizable number of Pandits chose to stay back in the tumultuous nineties and are still living a normal life gives a lie to this malicious claim.
The movie also suggests that the purported Muslim anger against Pandits goes back to the time when the valley was under Muslim rule, subtly portraying the Muslim rulers as tyrants, a classic trope from the Hindutva handbook.
So far as the story is concerned, it has very little to offer other than violence, which only serves the purpose of the Hindu right of further othering the villainous Muslim. A powerful star cast has failed to showcase any acting skills, except for Anupam Kher who speaks Hindi with a Kashmiri accent .His character gets lost as the movie dives into multiple issues that are at the core of the Hindutva agenda. JNU (Jawaharlal Nehru University), media, Indian Army, political warfare, abrogation of Article 370, mythology and ancient history of Kashmir have been rolled into a complex hotchpotch. An open-minded viewer gets confused and frustrated. The story has more chaos and little context. Agnihotri has tried hard to present a different Kashmir narrative, one that suits the majoritarian politics of India, by blatantly distorting facts and figures. The movie seems to be a story whose prequel and sequel are missing. As they say, half truth is a whole lie.
To conclude, the film has already made a record business of over Rs.200 crores and unfortunately it has done so by selling the miseries of our Kashmiri Pandit brethren through the most brutal and mendacious cinematic presentation. While it is an attempt to present Muslims as primitive barbarians, no other narrative could have hurt the cause of the Kashmiri Pandits as gravely as this movie does.
It is a misuse of the most powerful medium of mass communication to foment communal divide, which is, by all means, an anti-national activity. Canadian film director Dylan Mohan Gray was right on the money when he alluded to The Kashmir Files as “hatemongering revisionist garbage of no artistic merit.”