Kashmir Files: Another machiavellian film to be out next month

By Asif Khan and Arbeena Shah

In our childhood days, Bollywood was something that brought the entire family together as people remained glued to the screens waiting for the protagonist to beat the villains. But growing up witnessing different shades of Bollywood made us realize and challenge the notion that everything presented on the silver screen was either black or white. Especially when filmmakers tried capturing Kashmir, their picture was never relatable to the natives. Kashmir’s antagonistic nature fed by the cinema stood against how Kashmiris experienced their land. 

Looking back at Bollywood’s Kashmir in the 1960s, ‘Kashmir Ki Kali’ which was one of the highest grosser movies of that time presented Kashmir as a place of magnanimous raw beauty and historically, both colonialism and tourism have used women as a metaphor for territory, a sexualized metaphor, that has fed their imaginations. 

In the early nineties, the big screen tried to portray Kashmir as a place of newlyweds’ gradual erotic awakening (for example Roja). Many other films of Bollywood have presented the same notion of Kashmir being a hidden beauty demanding exploration by outsiders. Though women may have been used intentionally as metaphors, strong doubts and suspicions can easily be raised in a country where media literacy is at the least though not fully absent. So, if slogans of taking away Kashmiri women have been raised in the BJP ruled India, forget not that Bollywood to a great extent must be held responsible. 

Apart from it, another tyranny revealed on Kashmiris was the divide between Kashmiri Muslims and Pandits that Bollywood wanted to get the maximum out of. Because at the end of the day, no matter how much you debate, Bollywood’s main concern is its profit. For that, they can demonize any community or gender.

Driving its inspiration from the same doctrine, Vivek Agnihotri has taken it upon himself to retell the stories of Pandit migration. The cliché trailer with hyperbole is out conducting a smear campaign against Kashmiri Muslims with award-winning actors wearing strong emotions on their dim faces as they fiddle with terminologies in an attempt to plead a stronger case.

Mithun Chakraborty is seen bluntly calling Pandit migration Genocide pertaining to which P.P. Kapoor, an RTI activist in Haryana revealed numbers that contradict the estimated death toll for Kashmir’s minority community. His information hunting tousled feathers in the camp resounding with “holocaust and genocide” assertions based on some oft-quoted figures. In light of how the present administration has made eco-chambers of the same number across India-especially during campaign rallies and elections-this RTI activist from Haryana sought further clarification.

In response to a request for information made by RTI activist PP Kapoor from Haryana’s Samalkha (Panipat), a DSP at the Srinagar district police headquarters informed the activist that “89 Kashmiri Pandits were killed in attacks since 1990. If such killings as per the film’s trailer can qualify for genocide or massacre, there would hardly be any term justifiable for the killings of Kashmiri Muslims who have been losing innocent lives for decades.  

Kashmiri Muslims as always have been shown as puppets taking up arms against the Indian state on the call of Pakistan represented by late Benazir Bhutto. All in all the film is again going to juggle with its old elements- Islam, Pakistan and India. 

Prof. Nishat Haider in her study, “Explorations in History, Films and the Nation” notes that in the contemporary discourse of nationalism if we trace Bollywood’s shifting gaze on Kashmir, we find that its imaginings of the Valley transform from an Elysian territory of desire, romance and innocence to a terrain which stages a dialectic encounter between Islam, the Kashmir insurgency, and the Indian nation. 

These shifts in the Bollywood policies have often been synonyms with the policies of different ruling regimes of India. Cinema has been disseminating the messages or propaganda of their government to the people for a major part of its history. 

In the current hyper nationalistic atmosphere of India, many films made gold by fueling the hitherto rising levels of Islamophobia. Among such movies ‘Kashmir Files‘ claims to relive the horrors of Pandit migration and narrate its true story. The movie looks to do so by using selective thereby presenting the half picture. The trailer labels Kashmiri Muslims as rapists/murders besides praising Kashmiri Pandits for not picking up guns, unlike Kashmiri Muslims. Thereby painting all Kashmiri Muslims with the same brush and calling them terrorists indirectly. We see Anupam Kher yelling that where our holy books were written, that was Kashmir. Though he could have easily given a brotherhood example there the makers choose not to. This shows that Kashmiri Muslims won’t get any space in this film.  

 The question remains: did Kashmiri Muslims live peacefully after the departure of Pandits? Didn’t the Gaw-Kadal massacre happen in Kashmir when troops were ordered to open fire on people and children? But that’s unlikely to appear in Agnihotri’s film as evident from the trailer. Kashmiri Muslims would always be portrayed with the usual stereotypes of Bollywood and demonized as always. 

Kashmiri Muslims have never denied the suffering of their brethren rather pleaded for empathy from another side. But Bollywood doesn’t spare any chance of making profits no matter at what cost it comes. 

Kashmir Files is a blatant and relentless strike on the very essence of the Kashmiri brotherhood and an ‘oration of denial’ aimed at the suffering of Kashmiri Muslims. Many power-packed dialogues delivered in the trailer directly label Kashmiri Muslims as villains. 

It is a radical attempt to dehumanize Kashmiri Muslims, to burn every book chronicling the sorrow of Kashmiri Muslims evident from the words uttered by the award-winning actors in it. The Pandits as portrayed by the film seem to be driven by hate rather than love for their brethren. But that’s not how the Pandit community is rather it shows the hatred and animosity the maker of the film has for Kashmiri Muslims. The Pandit community would definitely renounce Kashmir Files because the maker is trying to feed his venom through their faces. 

Kashmir Files does not contain a single paper pertaining to the miseries of Kashmiri Muslims and such a one-sided movie lacks balance as evident from the trailer. When one conceals some aspects deliberately and propagates another, that sets itself forth as propaganda and with legendary actors at play, Kashmir Files is surely going to be one of the best agitprop and Machiavellian films of Hindi cinema.