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“One-word” review: The Kashmir Files can be defined in one word – ‘Watershed’

In the end, the movie leaves you with moist eyes and just a question to ask “why”. Why was this truth hidden from us? Why have we been lying about the genocide? Why have we been denying our Kashmiri Pandits justice?

In a world filled with fakes, fantasies and fanfare, seldom comes a movie that is not only a masterpiece of art but also a representation of bitter truth that shakes you inside out. I finally watched the most talked-about movie right now The Kashmir Files by Vivek Agnihotri but the most interesting thing happened after we finished watching the movie. My wife musters the courage to break the deafening silence from our seats in the theatre to the seats in the car and ask the question that we both were meant to ask each other like after every movie we watch. She finally asks “Kaisi lagi (movie)?” and to her disbelief of a standard one-word review of either “Achhi” or “Bekaar”, I said “Kadwi”. 

Why did I say “Kadwi”? Now, this I shall answer at the end of my “one word” review about different aspects of the movie The Kashmir Files, the actors and our experience. What explanation I gave her, but I must forewarn and alert you about the #Spoilers ahead but the truth is only a spoiler for those who don’t want to even see the mention of truth. 

Let’s first start with the movie The Kashmir Files itself – it’s a ‘watershed’. I couldn’t think of a better word to express the anger and anguish this movie leaves one with at the end of the movie. I could have called it a ‘masterpiece’ or ‘excellent’ or any sugary adjective that most critics and professional film reviewers use to define any movie but then it’ll not be justice. It’ll also be unjust to call these a collection or docufilm of “stories”, as these are not stories but facts and our harsh truths that could not have been told in any better way and craftily than this. Let this be a start of awareness and a moment of reckoning for our society, which for a long has had a short term memory loss to have forgotten many such chapters of our checkered history. 

Director Vivek Agnihotri – Simply put, ‘courageous’. It truly takes courage to fight against all odds in an industry known for its biases, hypocrisies and sugar coating and then pick up “not a fairy tale” but facts and present those truths with an everlasting impact along with the systemic challenges and roadblocks of finances, PR and propaganda it brings to those not in its inner circle. 

Rahul Roushan tweeted the other day, “Till just like 3-4 years ago, the liberals would taunt RW with ‘if you don’t like a book/movie, go write/make your own instead of crying’. Folks went ahead and did both, and now see what happened.” and now when the likes of Vivek Agnihotri, Vikram Sampath and many such men and women are starting to not rewrite but filling the scathing gaps in our checkered history. Vivek surely is gutsy and genius. He knew from his days of “Buddha in a Traffic Jam” and “The Tashkent Files” that he is no longer a Bollywood Insider or anybody’s Companion in the Film Industry (pun surely intended), that he is a Pariah now. 

If his earlier movies were an awakening, then The Kashmir Files surely is a reckoning. Vivek has been comparing this movie to Schindler List and Hotel Rwanda in his interviews but I’d like to disagree with him for once and like to call this his very own The Kashmir Files and he only has got better his art in his next and now we can’t wait for his next project The Delhi Files.

Now let’s come to the actors or I should say the pillars of this movie.

Darshan Kumaar – Very easily, he’s ‘Us’. His portrayal of Krishna Pandit is that of one of us. I’m a grandson of refugees myself, both my maternal and paternal grandparents left what was their land once and belonged to our forefathers. But after a political partition led to a mass exodus, genocide and eventual creation of Pakistan in 1947. I’m the 3rd generation who has only heard the stories as a passing anecdote and had never understood the gravity of what my grandparents and the Hindu-Punjabi community in East Punjab and North-West Frontier Province in what was India must have gone through until now when I understand their plights.

Darshan plays “us”, us who were unaware of truths and facts of the KP genocide for 32 yrs. ‘Us’ who would brush aside the ugly truth because it is so convoluted that ignoring seemed an easier escape to avoid the pain it would bring. Darshan’s speech in the climax of the film leaves one stunned with each and every fact hitting nails in the coffin of the web of lies spun around Kashmir, its glorious history and its broken present. It leaves one questioning how “I was brainwashed” with years of liberal, political and communal (or should I say ‘secular’ propaganda) to hide the facts for the last 32 years and the efforts are still on as we watch the truths in The Kashmir Files. Par “Hum Dekhenge” aur ab zaroor dekhenge. (Pun Intended again)

Anupam Kher – just one word isn’t enough, but this one particular word totally sums him up “legend”. I don’t think there could have been a better person than him to “not act” or “portray a role” but “be” Shri Pushkar Nath. Nobody. All through the movie, I was confused whether calling him an actor in this particular case will be a grave injustice to his Kashmiri Pandit roots. 

Anupam Kher moves you even till his last breath in the movie, from the scene where he confronts the terrorists in his house instead of escaping, to his time in the KP Refugee camp where he’s shown licking a Parle-G biscuit or refusing an expensive lens for his cataract to bring up his next generation as better KPs to confronting his grandson in present-day when he learns about his running as the President of ANU and his slogans of “Azaadi”. He very effectively shows what many senior KPs still go through until their last breath. Goosebumps. If Saaransh was his first peak, then The Kashmir Files is surely the Mt. Everest of his acting career. 

Bhasha Sumbli – The ‘Soul’. If Anupam Kher was the heart of the movie, she is the soul. Bhasha had the toughest job of them all. She lives through the realities of BK Ganjoo, Girija Tikoo, Nadimarg Massacre and many other KP victims in one character of Sharda Pandit. She leaves the audience numb with that howling cry while watching her husband Karan Pandit being killed in cold blood in front of her own eyes. Be it the rice drum scene, eating the blood-soaked rice or be it hacksaw scene! She moves you every time. 

Prithviraj Sarnaik – a “remarkable” kid. It’ll be criminal to not note his portrayal of the young Shiva Pandit. His act is nothing short of remarkable and that too as a child artist! The kid has a bright future and leaves us with an everlasting image of that freezing during Nadimarg Massacre. Those unforgettable eyes of yours in the last scene of the movie leaves an impression. 

Mithun Chakraborty, Puneet Issar, Prakash Belawadi, Atul Srivastav – “Reality”.

It’s the genius of Vivek Agnihotri that he has named the characters of Mithun Da as IAS officer Bhrama Dutt, Puneet Issar as DGP Hari Narain, Atul Srivastav as Journalist Vishnu Ram and Prakash Belawadi as Dr Mahesh Kumar. The Hindu “Trinity” functions of life as a creator, curator and destroyer. And it’s poetic that these finest actors who play friends of Pushkar Nath, at the same time portray the “pillars of democracy” in #TheKashmirFiles. All throughout the movie, they show how our political system failed them or rather, they were helpless and were made to fail in that vacuum of democracy & sanity during the KP genocide of 1990. They leave you with anguish that even then the system turned a blind eye towards the plight of Kashmiri Pandits and they still do after 32 years. 

Pallavi Joshi – “Villain”. A character being that of a villain makes it tough to compliment with any positive adjective and with a movie like The Kashmir Files, it makes the job all the tougher because this is no masala Bollywood film. I can’t find anyone word to compliment her very fine acting and yet not belittle it with a cuss word for the character of Professor Radhika Menon she’s playing in the movie. 

When you’ll watch the movie you will come to know who she’s portraying. Hate will be a mild word at the least for “those ladies” but as for Pallavi ji, there couldn’t be anyone better to act with those dark shades. Right from when she first appears on the screen, her innocent smile concealing the evil and sugary dialogue delivery hiding the sinister agenda of today’s andolanjeevis. She owns the act and truly tells u how “they” first own you in our academia and public spheres as historians or intellectuals and then brainwash you with false narratives and arguments. 

Also, compliments to Pallavi on her singing talent. There are hidden surprises in the movie and you must watch to see her talent. Also, it’ll be unjust to not acknowledge her equal partnership in the making of The Kashmir Files. If Vivek Agnihotri is the Captain of this ship, then his better half Pallavi Joshi is surely the Vice-Captain and deserves the accolades equally for going through the pains of the research that went behind in the making of this film. 

Chinmay Mandlekar – “Slayer”. He imbibes the portrayal of Maqbool Bhatt, Yasin Malik & Bitta Karate, an all-in-one character that was so well defined. He captures the barbarism in the reel with finesse and kudos to him that as a Marathi getting the Kashmiri accent, must not have been easy. But what characters he’s portraying is not even worth liking and appreciating and that’s the dilemma I’m still in. It hits you in the guts! He slew the role as the antagonist Farooq Ahmed Dar, that’s the best compliment I can give just to his portrayal of the character and his acting skills.

Audience – “Stunned”, “Speechless”, “Numb”, “Emotional” and I can write as many words but “one word” will be too little to capture the emotions that I went through and saw everyone in the audience go through. This movie leaves you with an impact that you’ll never forget in your life now. Never before in my life I’ve seen a house full auditorium sit with a pin drop silence all through 170 minutes of the movie. After any movie ends usually you’ll notice people mutter and chatter, someone asking “Kaisi Lagi” or “Gaadi kidhar parked hai” or “Khaana kya khaana hai?” but what may shock you further is that we all were numb and silent even in the corridors of the theatre while exiting.  

And now we come to the most important aspect of this movie, our Kashmiri Pandits brothers and sisters. 

Kashmiri Pandits – I kept thinking of any word that’ll do justice and not be lip service to their misery, their ordeal and I could only think of one word – “Sorry”.  

As a dialogue in the movie says “टूटे हुए लोग बोलते नहीं, उन्हें सुना जाता है!”. Sorry that we as a society never heard you, sorry that we as a society just glossed over the history of 19 Jan 1990 as an exodus and not that of genocide. Sorry, you’re still refugees in your own motherland. Sorry that we’ve lived in denial of a barbaric genocide and made you look like a sorry figure in your own land. 

In the end, the movie leaves you with moist eyes and just a question to ask “why”. Why was this truth hidden from us? Why have we been lying about the genocide? Why have we been denying our Kashmiri Pandits justice? There’s a dialogue in the movie that captures it very rightly “Fake News is not the problem but hiding truth is”. I hope that this movie that’s now become a movement, takes our journey for #RightToJustice further to a logical conclusion and allows our Kashmiri Pandits some sort of solace and a sense of closure after their 3 decades-long ordeals for a much needed and deserved justice. 

So, now you may understand why I answered a tough question from my wife, when she asked “(movie) Kaisi Lagi” as “Kadwi” because the truth is always bitter and it’s better when served cold. It may pain you a lot in the beginning with a lump in your throat that’s hard to swallow without any sugar-coating but this bitter pill makes it easier for you to come to terms with realities, facts & realities. 

As one audience to another, I wish you also find this movie “Kadwi” just like I did.

(This review has been penned by @moronhumor)

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