The Kashmir Files Movie review: A limp attempt at provocation
Vivek Agnihotri’s The Kashmir Files Movie mines a real tragedy for sickening rhetoric
In 1989-1990, amid a rising insurgency, the demographically-disadvantaged Kashmiri Pandit community in the Valley came under threat. As violence and persecution rose, lakhs of them fled their homes to settle in refugee camps. For over 30 years, they lived in exile, with successive governments doing little for their resettlement. Their cause is raised in political debates, and is often left at that. And now another atrocity is visited upon them: in the form of a Vivek Agnihotri film about the exodus.
Vivek’s last film, The Tashkent Files, was a conspiracy thriller, culled from vague literature paraded as ground-breaking truths. His latest, The Kashmir Files, opens with an acknowledgment: the film, we’re told, is based on video testimonies of actual Kashmiri Pandit victims. Attached to this is the disclaimer that the film, set between 1980s and present times, intends no disrespect to any community or faith. Both statements are woefully compromised. The Kashmir Files hasn’t the slightest concern for its subject people, gleefully exploiting their trauma and tragedy for cheap rhetoric. And its communal agenda is so brazen it beats most mainline propaganda.
Director: Vivek Agnihotri
Cast: Darshan Kumaar, Anupam Kher, Mithun Chakraborty, Pallavi Joshi, Puneet Issar
Krishna (Darshan Kumaar) is a college student in Delhi. Persuaded—‘brainwashed’ is the implicit term—by a professor (Pallavi Joshi), Krishna is contesting elections on the ‘Kashmir cause’, unaware of his own family’s past. His parents and elder brother were murdered at the time of the exodus—“genocide,” the film corrects us repeatedly. When Krishna visits his ancestral home, ostensibly to bury his grandfather’s ashes but also to document the region’s current state, he is faced with inconvenient truths—all packaged in flashbacks and released at a convenient time.
From the start, Vivek paints Kashmiri Hindus and Muslims in violent opposition. We are shown killings, desecrations and senseless acts of pillage and abuse. In evoking this bloodlust, the film gives away its own. The violence isn’t contextualized—graphic provocation is all it’s meant to achieve. It’s true that Kashmiri minorities were historically persecuted, perhaps in more horrid ways than we see onscreen. But the film doesn’t stop at identifying radical insurgents and fundamentalists as the perpetrators. Every Muslim—from a maulvi at a refugee school to the Pandits’ neighbours—is a villain or enabler. When Steven Spielberg made Schindler's List (1992), he also picked as his protagonist a conscientious German man, whereas there is not a single moderate in The Kashmir Files.
The film operates by a twisted logic. Here’s a typical exchange. Character A: Kashmiri Muslims are persecuted. Character B: But they also killed Pandits. A: That’s not true. B: It’s true. Remove Article 370. The fact that no conflict is unidimensional, that there can be multiple oppressed groups in a region, simply doesn’t dawn on this film. Rather, it conflates everything: sloganeering and activism with terrorism, student politics with national politics, 20th and 21st century Kashmir with ancient Kashmir.
At least The Tashkent Files had a fun mix of characters. Here, Anupam Kher and Mithun Chakraborty lead the old guard (their angry outbursts made me worry if a cardiologist was on call). Darshan Kumaar looks like any Indian boy who's stuck in a family WhatsApp group, and can’t leave. Pallavi Joshi is least credible as a shifty prof, saying even the simplest of things with a conspiratorial air. The film is most excited when training its gun on intellectuals and journalists—not so when offering actual solutions to the Kashmiri Pandit cause. "The foreign press exploits images of women and children," we're told, in a film full of images of women and children.
The Kashmir Files flips the old commandment: it demands two eyes for one.