The Kashmir Files is not a film, but a traumatic experience of the most brutal episode of Indian history that every Hindu should go through. For the first time, watching a film one realizes that sometimes the truth itself is exaggeration and it doesn’t need any special effects, props, or artistic expression to become more truthful.
There are many films that open with powerful, disturbing, and haunting scenes like the relentless killing of 17-year-old US soldier by German gunners in Saving Private Ryan or killing of a Jew family hiding under the floorboards of a farmers home in Inglourious Basterds, and Macbeth’s grieving at their child’s funeral in Macbeth (2015). Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven comes close but lacks the factual historical imperative. Yet none of these films end with the same intense scenes denying closure to the agony and pain they create at the start and during the course of the film.
Vivek Agnihotri chose not to give the closure. The Kashmir Files opens and also ends with one of the most disturbing scenes in the history of Indian cinema. Between the opening scene of the brutal killing of Karan Nath Pandit and the closing Nadimarg massacre (starkly resembling the infamous Katyń massacre), Agnihotri imprisons his viewer so intensely that they forget the respite provided to them in other scenes of the film. Through the eyes of the young boy Shiv who frighteningly watches his mother forced with an AK-47 on her head eat Tamul, rice soaked in his father’s blood, Vivek forces his viewers to look right in the abyss of Islamic terrorism and then makes the same abyss stare them back at the end of the film when Shiv is shot point blank by Farooq Malik Bitta.
Vivek Agnihotri is not new to either telling the truth or prophesying the future. While his last film ‘The Tashkent Files’ (2019) tried to excavate mysteries of death of former Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shashti through research and recovery of archival documents, in ‘Buddha in Traffic Jam’ (2014), he predicted not only the process of creation of young Urban Naxals (a word coined by him) in the universities and academia but also their eventual expose and arrest as it happened in 2018 in the aftermath of Bhima Koregaon violence.
‘The Kashmir Files’ is not only about what happened to the Kashmiri Pandit Community but also why they never got justice for so long. And taking a cue from his expose on Urban Naxals done in his previous film ‘Buddha in a Traffic Jam’ and the academia and universities ideological war against the state, he has very deftly interwoven the story of a youth, Krishna Pandit who is misguided and fed fabricated narratives on the history and culture of India and the Pandit genocide and exodus. Because the bigger problem than Indian state and all of India doing nothing for the killing and exodus of Kashmiri Pandits by their own neighbors and friends is the amnesia that envelopes us and how that amnesia is actively funded, propagated and perpetuated in our education system helped and sponsored by the left liberal-oriented state. It was important to show the misguiding of a youth that too, a KP himself, not only to remove that heavy curtain of ignorance from the future generation but also prepare them to be on guard if any such thing is tried again to distort or hide history.
Vivek Agnihotri wanted to make a documentary on the KP genocide and that is why every character and incident in the film is taken from actual events. And it appears that consciously the writer-director has used one character, Bitta Karate as the personification of Islamic terrorism.
A film made on a meager budget of 14 crores and large amount of fear and apprehension can obviously have a few technical and cinematic compromises, but it would be utterly foolish to comment on that. Yet, the film does justice to all the scenes that were focused on torture and killing in Kashmir and life in camp of Kashmiri Pandits. Almost all the episodes are expertly shot and edited and infused with intense, haunting, and memorable Kashmiri folk poems. Those poems sung in female voices, sometimes loving and sometimes melancholic along with the blue tone of the snow-capped rooftops of Srinagar never let viewers to have a moment of respite. And when one does, the brilliant performance of Anupam Kher drags them back to the same abyss; they see the four old friends discussing.
There is a constant tussle in the film between the venom spewed on Azadi by the character Radhika Menon and the helplessness and empathy created by the character of Pushkar Nath Pandit. And both Pallavi Joshi and Anupam Kher without coming together on the screen keep pulling the film apart on two emotional ends. It was Anupam Kher who ended up making many people cry. He had never been this good even in his celebrated first film Saransh where he played the role of a 60-year-old man when he was merely thirty years old. Here in ‘The Kashmir Files’, he is not only old but also a Kashmiri Pandit and that probably helped him create such a potent, and believable character.
The film has already earned over 120 crores in nine days when it was being shown in less than 600 screens and now that it is being released on 4000 screens it may end up breaking many records in the history of Indian cinema. The telling of an unvarnished truth with politically incorrect style has touched something in the hearts and minds of Indians who were kept in dark by this brutal shameful episode. ‘The Kashmir Files’ is not an art film like Ardh Satya and Vivek Agnihotri is not Govind Nihalani but he and the film will end up being both in style and its impact on the consciousness of people of India.
It would be a tremendous loss to all the unknown communities that have suffered injustice if The Kashmir Files is ignored by Oscars.
And lastly, if there is a flaw in the film, it is that it is not long enough and not graphic enough.
(Bholenath Vishwakarma is an environmental policy and sustainability professional. He is currently working on a short story Madmen of Kingsbridge and Other Stories from New York.)