Article 370
Article 370

Article 370 Movie Review: The devil lies in the details

The Yami Gautam Dhar starrer is a fictional telling of what led to the abrogation of J&K's special status
Rating:(2 / 5)

Article 370 opens with a chunky disclaimer. You know how it goes. “This film is inspired by true incidents that have been documented in the public domain… it is a work of fiction… this film is not a documentary.” Then it tries to be one. We get sepia-toned shots of India after independence, as an Ajay Devgn voiceover enlightens us on the history of Article 370. How it has been the major hurdle in the development of Kashmir. Yes, Nehru is blamed.

Directed by: Aditya Suhas Jambhale

Starring: Yami Gautam Dhar, Priya Mani Raj, Kiran Karmarkar, Raj Arjun and Divya Seth

But don’t mistake this film to be your run-of-the-mill propaganda. It isn’t caricaturish or unintentionally funny (maybe, a little bit). Villains don’t chant ‘manzil’ and ‘maqsad’ or tear at goat legs. Meet Zooni Haksar (Yami Gautam Dhar), a Kashmiri intelligence operative, who doesn’t play by the rules. She is hiding painful memories of her father dying by suicide after being framed for a bank scam. Zooni is the Kashmiri representative, who has been personally affected by the banes of Article 370. The special status prevented her father’s “killers” from being put on trial by the Indian state. The Article, which was once called the “only bridge between India and Kashmir”, is reduced to being nothing more than a protective shield for militants, separatists and crony politicians. Terrorism is not a retaliation but merely a business in the Valley. Article 370 tries to be a complex film, but is unwilling to delve into the complexities of a conflict.

When the film opens, Zooni is on the hunt for Hizbul Mujahideen leader Burhan Wani. A source informs he is going to be present at a certain house for an Eid celebration. The security forces cordon off the area and as the militants are escaping, a gunfight ensues. It is a slick, well-crafted action sequence (the film has been written and produced by Uri director Aditya Dhar). With gunfire being exchanged in the dead of the night, it is almost like being inside a Call of Duty game. But Article 370 doesn’t want to be an action film. It strives to be a brainy political thriller. Once Wani is killed, the Valley erupts with protests and stone-pelting and only one explanation is offered: they are aimless youngsters being paid by separatists. Zooni is transferred to Delhi over hasty handling of the Burhan affair before she is appointed to the National Investigation Agency (NIA) and lands back in Kashmir. We are also introduced to Rajeshwari Swaminathan (Priya Mani Raj), the methodical Secretary to the PMO. The film is a telling of the events that led up to the abrogation. It divides its time between Kashmir, where Zooni ensures peace (by putting Kashmiri politicians under house arrest), and Delhi, where Rajeshwari scouts for loopholes in order to remove the state’s special status.

Close to the election, where everything goes (looking at you, Tejas and Main Atal Hoon), Article 370 is still a competent, detailed film. But there is no space for a conflicting piece of information. No mention of the Army’s excesses or the Indian state’s handling of the Kashmir issue. The Pulwama attack is a reaction to Wani’s killing but there is no inkling of a security lapse. Tying a man to a jeep’s bonnet in order to make way amidst stone pelters is played for laughs. But I actually chuckled when a separatist leader flexed during an interrogation scene, stating that if he is hurt, Human Rights ‘wale’ will not spare the Army.

For Article 370 everything the ruling party does is a genius manoeuvre. The Indian government is seen operating in silence, pulling strings, and making sharp moves. The separatists are opportunists, the militants are in for the money, the government is tactful and the Kashmiri people are absent. There are references to the Prime Minister but he makes an appearance only by the end of the first half. When the PM finally comes on screen, he is walking in slow-mo beside tricolour-wrapped caskets of Pulwama martyrs. With white hair and a flowy-white beard, he is played by Arun Govil, the quintessential Ram from Ramanand Sagar’s Ramayan. It wasn’t that complicated now, was it?

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