This hate has to end: Shikara director Vidhu Vinod Chopra
The director on the events that shaped the film, shooting in real refugee camps, and why dialogue is crucial in resolving the Kashmiri Pandit issue.
Vidhu Vinod Chopra wants Shikara to be a vehicle of harmony and healing. More than a decade in the offing, the film tells a fictional account of the Kashmiri Pandit exodus, wherein lakhs of people were forced to flee the Kashmir Valley in the wake of the 1989 insurgency. Here, the director discusses the events that shaped the film, shooting in real refugee camps, and why dialogue is crucial in resolving the Kashmiri Pandit issue.
How difficult was it to revisit such a traumatic chapter of your life?
It was not easy. I started work on this post my mother’s demise in 2007. The Kashmiri Pandit exodus is a known issue but the complexities and the build-up of events are not known. This movie required significant research so that we could tell an absorbing story that is fact-based and helps in bringing this conversation to the fore. This was perhaps my most challenging project. I had to remain dispassionate yet make a compelling argument that the only solution to such hatred is love.
The love between Shiv Kumar Dhar and Shanti Dhar (the chief protagonists - Shanti is also my mother’s name, by the way) is a binding factor that forces us to think beyond hatred.
Why the title Shikara?
Shikara (houseboats) is a cultural symbol of Kashmir. The movie is about the Kashmiri Pandit exodus and while we did discuss various titles, Shikara, we felt, best represented the pristine and serene surroundings which were once a commonality in this place. We wanted a title that would instantly connect with people and hence the name Shikara.
Tell us about your lead actors, Aadil and Sadia, and how you found them.
I held auditions in Jammu, flew in the shortlisted people to Bombay, and auditioned them further. That’s how I found Sadia. She’s from Bhaderwah and was studying in Jammu. Of course, bringing her in had its own hurdles – her father wouldn’t agree, the family had inhibitions. I had to actually make long video calls to convince them. It helped immensely that I spoke in Kashmiri.
For the role of the poet, I wanted a good voice. When I heard Aadil’s voice, it immediately reminded me of Amitabh Bachchan’s voice. And it, of course, helped that he was very aware of the Kashmiri culture because of his Kashmiri ancestry.
You shot in actual camps and worked with real refugees.
Authenticity was the key in order to draw out the correct emotions of a community displaced from their homeland. I was fortunate enough that I had the blessings of my mother and the support of the Kashmiri Pandit refugee community who helped me complete this movie. Without their help and contribution, this film would not have been possible.
Given the sensitivity of the subject, are you confident people will get your motivations behind the film?
I urge everyone to see the movie and judge for themselves. I have tried to depict the ghastly acts committed on a community and the journey of a Kashmiri Pandit couple during those challenging times. The movie has a message of love and that it should serve as a healer.
The exodus of the Kashmiri Pandits has been widely politicised. Some say India has forgotten its own citizens and denied them justice. Others say their pain is exploited to create more hatred. How do you look at all this?
It deeply saddens me and leaves me in anger and pain that successive governments, media, civil society, and intellectuals turned a blind eye to the Kashmiri Pandit issue. None of us thought that this issue would stretch for so long. The insurgency and our inability to handle the internal conflict within Kashmir kept the focus on Kashmir as a troubled state so the question of Kashmiri Pandits’ return was lost in the discussion. Had the Kashmiri Pandits returned, the region would have been better, more peaceful, and economically powerful because local people want communities to come together.
The film is releasing at a time of intense political tension in India.
In fact, only after watching the film will you realise how relevant it is to solving the Kashmiri Pandit issue. I am happy that I could bring the Kashmiri Pandit exodus to the fore. I am a firm believer that love conquers all, I also believe that dialogue in a conducive environment can help resolve any issue. Yes, injustice has been done and in the movie, it has been portrayed in the way it occurred — ghastly, inhumane, and without any mercy. This was what we all went through, but I believe this hate has to end, and love and dialogue will help us do that.
There have been calls to boycott the film after your recent statements. Are you afraid of repercussions?
The other day, at some media interview, I said that it is about two friends who (should) apologise and move on and I was misunderstood. Let me clarify that position as well. I believe that wrong has happened and the people who did that cannot be spared and should receive the harshest punishment. But for us to ensure that we have a sustainable future, dialogue is crucial and that is when I said that people who were silent spectators, locals or leaders across the country need to apologise for putting the Kashmiri Pandit community through this horror and move on and resolve the issue.
Shikara is your first Hindi film in more than ten years. Do you plan on directing again soon?
Only if the subject excites me. I’m not here to make a film just for the sake of it. If the story excites me then yes, definitely I will.