DR RATAN BHATTACHARJEE

Very few films have come out on Kashmir and the controversial issues in Kashmir. A few are there dealing with romance in the valley. But the films which Vivek Ranjan Agnihotri made are mostly realistic. He debuted with Chocolate in 2005 and the critical reception was negative. His erotic thriller Zid released in 2014 received poor reviews. But he won the National Film Award for Best Screenplay – Dialogues for The Tashkent Files in 2019. In his film, The Tashkent Files Vivek Agnihotri presented his take on former Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri’s death through memories and flashbacks.

The release of Kashmir Files showed that Vivek Agnihotri as a director of the film also took the realistic side of Kashmir. Vishal Bhardwaj’s ‘Haider’s also a realistic film on Kashmir in which we saw Muslims suffering as predestined. Kashmir Files of Vivek Agnihotri is a strong rejoinder where he tries to suggest that Kashmiri Hindus are victims of suffering no less than Muslims. The story of Kashmir Files is a complex narrative. Krishna, a  Kashmiri Pandit and student of a premier university modeled on Jawaharlal Nehru University has been tutored by his liberal teacher Radhika Menon into believing that the secessionist movement in Kashmir.

When Krishna’s grandfather Pushkar Nath dies he returns to Kashmir with his ashes and meets four of his grandfather’s friends who reveal the real story of Kashmir to Krishna and of course the audience. Kashmir Files was written and directed by Vivek Agnihotri on the exodus of Kashmiri Pandits from the valley in the 1990s starring Anupam Kher, Darshan Kumar Mithun Chakraborty and Pallavi Joshi among others. The film depicted the barbarism, committed against Kashmiri Hindus in its crudest form and the victims are yet to receive justice even after three decades.

Today there should be no doubt that it is a highly motivated political film with BJP leader Mithun Chakraborty playing roles in it and the film is being used for raking the Hindutva issue once again by Modi and his BJP comrades with an eye to 2024 Lok Sabha Election after the recent victory in four states. So each and every slogan in the film is facing big controversy. ‘Desh ke gaddaro ko goli maro salo ko’ is one such slogan in the film – it is yet not clear who are called gaddar in this slogan shouted in Vivek Agnihotri’s Kashmir Files. The slogan is intended for the people responsible for this age-long tortures on the Hindus and not for all Indian Muslims.

It is more specifically intended for the terrorists and enemies of India and they cannot be the common Indian Muslims. But the political colour that the BJP as a party in the row is giving to it seems to have created all the confusion. With the tag attached to BJP in Gujarat riots and Narendra Modi himself, this over-enthusiastic justification of the film seems rather unusual and many are suspicious of a motif.

The global Kashmiri Pandits Diaspora raised funds for the film and advertised it on Times Square – World’s most expensive and prestigious advertising site. We don’t know the consequences of making the issue of Kashmir genocide being mainstreamed but according to Vivek Agnihotri, this will make his country proud at the global level People are watching the film but what they are more interested in watching how a film is made political and even the Prime Minister is into it. PM Modi referred to the reluctance over presenting history and historical figures in the right perspectives as in the case of the delayed recognition of Mahatma Gandhi.

It is strongly objected that Indian Muslims are equated with traitors. Even the slogan calling for the glory of Mother India (Bharat Mata ki Joy) is poised against Muslims in the opinion of Rana Ayyub the Washington columnist. Bernardo Bertolucci once justified why he was not interested in making a political film. “Now young people don’t care for politics,” said Bertolucci. Young people may not care for Kashmir Files, but strangely enough, the BJP leaders are all mesmerized by the film for its political message. Even the Prime Minister of the country gave a clarion call to his party men to rally behind Vivek Agnihotri and his film Kashmir Files.

A small budget film with no big stars became a super hit in the first week of its release and polarized opinion is triggered more than Padmavati released a few years ago. One big reason is the very name of Kashmir which is a controversial subject. The movie delves into the history of Kashmir and the restive region along India’s border with Pakistan has long been a sensitive subject. In this valley of Muslim-majority armed insurgency against Indian rule since the late 1980s occurred again and again.

What is tragic is that Kashmiri Hindus have been continuously targeted especially the upper caste Pandits who were a minority group. But this is never to include all the Muslims of Kashmir or India. The BJP government revoked Kashmir’s constitutionally guaranteed autonomy in 2019. The party used the conflicted region as a poll plank and took a great initiative to focus on the issue of the Hindu exodus. Very few writers or film directors earlier focused on the exodus before this film which was to be released before Republic Day when the poll campaign was kick-started though it was postponed for the third wave and spread of Omicron. 

Modiji is taking a swipe on those who were against the release of The Kashmir Files by relating it to the issue of ‘ Freedom of expression’ while the whole country knows that  Modiji’s government has scanty respect for the institution of freedom for  India as a  pluralistic society. Modi slammed the ‘ecosystem that is involved in burying the truths and urged the BJP MPs to stand up for those who bring out ‘truths that have been suppressed for years.’ But what is the truth behind all campaigns for truth, no one knows it yet. Modi is at the present moment the most popular leader of the country. The people of India wait for each and every word he utters. He is the ‘right person’ in the eye of billions of people over the globe. We may accept the wrong person teaching us the right lesson, but we cannot accept the right person teaching us the wrong lesson.

Dr. Ratan Bhattacharjee a senior academician and columnist can be reached at:profratanbhattacharjee@gmail.com

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