The Kashmir Files

There’s a great scene in #TheKashmirFiles. When Krishna (Darshan Kumar) gives his speech in ANU (an obvious wordplay!), Radhika Menon (Pallavi Joshi) who plays a brilliant amalgamation of several real life characters, asks him to stop. And a student sitting right beside her says, “No, let him speak. We want to listen”. This sums up the mood of the nation, especially the youth, who genuinely wanted to listen to the horrendous genocide of the Kashmiri Hindus for decades but our film industries were so tied with peddling the goody goody and romantic side of the Kashmir – often with the glorification of terrorists – that they either never told the stories of the most shameless ethnic cleansing of Bhaaratiya history or they made them bollywood-appropriate. Vivek Ranjan Agnihotri on the other hand doesn’t hold anything back in his film and an eager nation listens, just like the students of ANU who were kept ignorant to suit some political propaganda.

And boy, does he tell his story with brutal honesty! I must admit that I never liked Agnihotri’s previous outing The Tashkent Files. It was a bold but scattered film where all the narratives never really gelled together and though it asked some tough questions the resulting film was rather an assault on the senses. He follows the same narrative structure here. He puts the sides of Kashmiri Pandits, separatist murderers, politicians, Police, media, civil services, thinkers, youth torn apart amongst the narratives; perspective of almost everyone possible in front of us and yet manages to make his own ruthless statement. This very thing sets The Kashmir Files leagues apart from The Tashkent Files where he seemed to be held back at the crucial moments.

In that sense, Krishna here works more with the audience as a layered character than the incoherent Raagini (Shweta Basu Prasad) in previous outing. This is just another example of how Agnihotri’s writing has been seriously improved. His screenplay is full of insights and dialogues speak in subtext. His direction still becomes somewhat loud for such a terrifically subtle piece of cinema, but he deserves full credit for this emotionally rich yet intelligent writing. Having said that, I still feel the metamorphosis of Krishna could have been handled better. Capturing all the sides of the narrative, Udaysingh Mohite’s camera moves with panache. So does Rohit Sharma’s score. Shankh Rajadhyaksha’s editing though crisp, some may still found a space for improvement in it.

Mithun Chakraborty, Puneet Issar, Prakash Belawadi, Atul Srivastava are all seasoned actors and work excellently well. Though Mrunal Kulkarni has lesser screentime and fewer dialogues, she makes her presence felt, proving how she knows her craft out and out. Bhasha Sumbli gives life to Sharada Pandit and makes her eternal pain memorable. Pallavi Joshi portrays the vicious Radhika Menon with the way only she can.

But I must save my finest of the praises for two extraordinary artists. One is Chinmay Mandlekar who plays Farooq Bitta. He is the most merciless, cold-blooded villain you wouldn’t have seen in years on screen. It becomes hard to believe that the same person plays Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj in Pawankhind which is simultaneously running in theatres. Shows his versatility and the fact that a great director can extract wonders from him. And yet Anupam Kher who plays Pushkar Nath Pandit takes the cake. He infectious agony makes us feel like he is not playing a role, but reliving the trials, tribunals and ultimate injustice the Kashmiri Hindus suffered. For this role, Kher deserves all the awards possible for acting including a National Award.

Make no mistake, The Kashmir Files is not a perfect film. No film ever is. But what makes it successful is that it cuts out all the melodrama and presents the plight of people who live like refugees in their own nation as it is. And in that process, it subverts the expectations of audience in a poetic way and kicks all of us at the right places. It’s a feat no other mainstream filmmaker has ever achieved in last three decades. The Kashmir Files, the story of the most gut-wrenching pogrom and following exodus in the history of Bhaarat, deserves to be seen, heard and experienced on as many international platforms as possible.


— © Vikram Edke
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