The Kashmir Files is a public service because for thirty-two years the Kashmir Hindu genocide was covered in a veneer of political correctness and now director Vivek Agnihotri has ripped it apart.
As the credits started to roll, we all got up to leave amid a silence unheard of. Never in my life have I experienced such silence at the end of a movie and saw people walking quietly out of a film theatre. No one spoke, the audience walked quietly without pushing one another and it felt like returning home from a funeral. I felt everyone was thinking and contemplating and that is the effect The Kashmir Files had on the audiences at the theatre I watched in Bangalore and presumably all over India.
As a student of history, particularly medieval and contemporary history that is never taught to us in our schools and universities, I thought I could prepare myself to watch this movie and nothing would surprise me because, with films, it is very rare when I am surprised. However, director Vivek Ranjan Agnihotri who wrote this film surprised me as he did not hold any punches when it came to dialogues that one will never hear in any Bollywood film.
Bollywood has a history of justifying the violence of one particular community and it never fails to portray them as victims but in this film, the victims are the Hindu pandits and Agnihotri ensures all the justification of violence against the Hindus of the valley used for the last three decades falls flat. I am happy I do not have to use the word “allegedly” because the film is mostly historically accurate. However, it was Girija Tickoo who was gang-raped and cut in two halves using a mechanical saw while she was still alive, but for storytelling, I am not going to split hair.
To me, this film is a public service because for thirty-two years the Kashmir Hindu genocide was covered in a veneer of political correctness and now director Vivek Agnihotri has ripped it apart and has successfully managed to explain the true evil and apathy that was bestowed upon the Kashmiri pandits for the last thirty-two years. The Kashmir Files gives us information on how this genocide was operated and how Islam as a religion was used as markers to target Hindus in the valley and how neighbours became executioners. The director also brilliantly showcases how men can be fallible and can also be good in the face of evil and judiciously uses creative freedom.
The Kashmir Files is a film that makes you feel alone. As an observer of human behaviour, what I saw was everyone in the audience watching this film was alone even though they came as a group and everyone watched this movie alone, lost in their own thoughts and I think it will take some time for them to discuss the movie. The fact is very few people in India know the true story of the plight of the Kashmiri Hindus, particularly in the South of India and as the lights came on, I saw faces full of surprise and agony.
The film is very graphic and for the first time in Indian cinema, I saw brain matter, i.e. in scenes when Hindus were being shot in the head point-blank range there was a back spatter on the person standing next shown covered in blood and tissue. But the graphic scenes are warranted because if the scenes of violence are not graphic, this film would be called a documentary. The Bandipora massacre scene reminded me of the movie Schindler’s List which left a lasting impact on me on how mindlessly cruel man can be. Director Steven Spielberg was criticised for being too graphic with violence and nudity and I am sure Vivek Agnihotri will also be criticised for his justifiably unrestrained show of violence. But no one will say a word on violence, sex, and cuss words used in the movie Gangs of Wasseypur that glorified brigandage.
The other reason this film reminded me of Schindler’s List was when I saw small children who are not old enough to understand anything were innocently spewing venom against the pundits. It reminded me of that famous scene from Schindler’s List when a small girl standing in the railway station shouts “Goodbye Jews” without knowing what horrible fate awaits them. I am also mentioning the movie Belfast for some context on how hypocrisy works. This film has been directed by Kenneth Branagh and received seven nominations at the 94th Academy Awards. It tells the story of how the majority of protestant Christians turned on their minority Catholic neighbours who prayed to the same god. But I am afraid The Kashmir Files will not be received with such kindness because it has opened a chapter in our history that some want to remain closed and the film unabashedly showcases the violence Islamists unleashed against their minority Hindu neighbours in Kashmir.
The Kashmir Files is now a “fork in the road”, a deciding moment in the history of Kashmir, and we the people of Bharat are now faced with the task to choose the options presented to us.
Lastly, I want to thank Bollywood director Vidhu Vinod Chopra for making the movie Shikara which most probably spurred Vivek Ranjan Agnihotri to make The Kashmir Files. As a parting gift to Mr Chopra, I want to say “You don’t know Nadru and you don’t know Kashmir” and to his wife Anupama Chopra, you no longer have the power to run your parochial and self-serving narratives. After the film ended I came home but Pushkar Nath Pandit and the hundreds of thousands of my Kashmiri brothers and sisters are still waiting to go home.
Om Namah Shivaya.
Mata Saraswati Sharda.
(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed as authors own and do not necessarily reflect the views of Organiser)