Listen to this article:
“A truth that’s told with bad intent, beats all the lies you can invent.”
∼ William Blake
The expression “the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth” is well-known. But how many people understand it? It demands that the absolute truth about anything be delivered without omission, adornment or change. Truth necessitates not only context, but also reference and circumstances.
In this regard, The Kashmir Files falls short. Actually, it manipulates the truth, cherry-picks the truth, and exploits the truth emotionally. As a result, the film eventually devolves into a piece of pure vitriol and hatred. It had the potential to be a wonderful subject for evoking empathy and bringing people together, but it quickly devolved into something really vicious and malevolent.
I can’t help but see it through two separate lenses as a screenwriter and an activist. Let me begin by assessing the film as a scriptwriter.
Krishna Pandit (Darshan Kumar) is a young man who is running for the post of president of a university that is definitely inspired by JNU in its elections. Professor Radhika Menon is his mentor (Pallavi Joshi). He is an ideal candidate to burst the Narrative of the current ruling establishment since he is a Kashmiri Pandit. (I’m not sure how Kashmir is an electoral issue in the JNU election, but whatever.)
Krishna’s grandfather, Pushkar Nath Pandit (Anupam Kher), a displaced Kashmiri Pandit who was suffering from dementia, dies. He travels to Kashmir to fulfil his final desire and sprinkle his ashes at their ancestral house. When he arrives, he is greeted by five individuals who have been waiting for him. Brahma Dutt (Mithun Chakraborty), a former Indian Administrative Service officer, and his wife Laxmi Dutt (Mrinal Kulkarni). Dr. Mahesh Kumar (Prakash Belawadi), a doctor currently residing in the United States. A retired officer, DGP Hari Narain (Puneet Issar). Vishnu Ram (Atul Srivastava), a journalist. All of them in their 70s, old, tired and bitter.
All of these persons knew Krishna’s grandfather and have knowledge of his past. He had no idea that his father, mother, and elder brother were slaughtered by militants in Kashmir in the most heinous manner possible. He has been brainwashed by Radhika Menon to the point where he is unable to accept facts, but he gradually comes around when he discovers the truth about his family. He’s a different person at the end.
When he returns to his institution, he gives a speech in which he fully, utterly and publicly destroys Radhika Menon. His eloquent speech leaves the listeners awestruck and a little embarrassed.
The film ends with the heartbreaking images of his mother and sibling being mercilessly murdered by militants in front of his grandfather in the 2003 Nandimarg Massacre in Pulwama district.
Let me begin with the film’s first incredibly unbelievable component – Krishna’s persona. Krishna’s grandfather, with whom he grew up, is shown wearing a board across his breast that reads “Repeal Article 370”. He is outspoken and strong in his beliefs. Krishna’s grandfather was both his mother and father, hence he was basically his only influence throughout his life, until a few years ago, when he enrolled in JNU.
Because of the experiences Krishna has lived through, being innocent or downright naive is almost impossible. Its well-known that characters are a reflection of their circumstances. The sort of person you’ll become is determined by the life you’ve lived and the struggles you have faced. Krishna appears to have spent years in some type of deep freezer before being dragged out and inserted into JNU. He resembles the Encino Man more than a regular person.
The entire film is built on the fact that Krishna was never informed what had happened to his parents and siblings. Perhaps the filmmakers wished to create a clear parallel to the youth who are unaware of the events in Kashmir in 1990. But it simply doesn’t work . In the film, there is no explanation for why this major secret was concealed from him. It’s even more amazing because his grandfather is a very outspoken man who wears his heart on his sleeve. It’s incredible that his grandfather never told him the truth about his own past. When his grandfather’s character is battling to let the rest of the world know the truth.
Consider a man who has dedicated his whole life to uncovering the truth, Who has never shied away from confronting anybody and who never tells this very truth to his own grandchild. As a result, both personas are unreal and inconsistent. Because this is such a basic error, even a novice writer would not have made it.
But those are the kinds of things we talk about when we talk about movies with good craft; I didn’t anticipate anything and didn’t find any.
The second problem concerns Radhika Menon’s character (Pallavi Joshi). She reminds me of Mogambo from Mr India (1987). Her motivation is impossible to fathom. Mogambo was a 1990s movie character who wanted to conquer India on a whim, and she is similar. She’s striving to be nefarious and dishonest for the sake of her own entertainment. It’s unclear why she considers the Kashmir issue to be a “core” issue in the JNU elections, but such characters are plentiful throughout the film.
Then there is the IAS officer and his wife, the DGP, the doctor, and the reporter, who are all pals. Who have assembled in Kashmir for the wake of a deceased friend. You’d start to wonder why all these resourceful individuals abandoned their closest buddy to fend for himself for 30 years through such a dreadful existence. It is repeatedly said that they are meeting after 30 years.
While they appear to be well-versed in debate, none of them has ever stepped out to assist a man or his family in a time of need. At one point in the film, I began to despise everything they said. Except for one time when a reporter buddy took the family to a location that was even more risky and perilous than the prior one. And this was while he was attempting to assist his pal.
They were just empty words that never helped the story in any way. Before the climax, one can’t help but think that if these friends had stepped in earlier, the family would not have had to go through such a difficult period.
There are various instances in which timelines do not make sense. Krishna’s father was assassinated on January 19, 1990, and Krishna’s mother and brother were assassinated in the Nandimarg Massacre in 2003, 13 years later. The youngsters have scarcely grown in that time. Shiv, Krishna’s oldest brother, would have been over 20 by then if he was 8-10 years old when his father died. Krishna would have been at least 13 years old at the time, but he has no recollection of the occurrence.
Pandit Pushkar Nath initially informs his buddy IAS Brahma Dutt that his son’s name is on a militant’s hit list, but no assistance is offered. I’m assuming he should have done something because Brahma Dutt is such a significant figure that he can question the chief minister, face to face.
I could go on and on about the inconsistencies, the bad writing, the manipulation and the jumps in the story, but this isn’t only about the movie’s skill or quality. It’s just awful writing and sloppy direction to me, but I’m not the one to force my standards on the viewers.
To stop being the screenwriter and shift gears. I believe this is propaganda rather than a genuine work of art or workmanship. Propaganda, by definition, is the spread of information – facts, arguments, speculations, half-truths, or outright lies – in order to sway public opinion. It serves a goal, is one-sided, and delivers the truth in a partial or convenient manner.
In this regard, The Kashmir Files shines. In 1990, according to the Kashmiri Pandit Sangharsh Samiti, 357 Hindus were slain in Kashmir. By all accounts, many more Muslims have been slaughtered by militants. The topic of why these Muslims were slaughtered is never addressed in the film. Did they have any family and friends? Did they deserve a mention in the film? Were tens of thousands of Muslim children orphaned? Were thousands of Muslim women widowed?
Innocent people were being slaughtered, whether they were Hindus or Muslims. Militants have committed atrocities against Muslims, according to reports. Tales of Muslims trapped in Kashmir with nowhere to flee are chilling. They tried to hide in the shadows but were easy targets for the extremists. There isn’t a single mention of these hapless souls or the agony that their families had to go through.
There isn’t a single Muslim character in the film who is empathetic. Every single Muslim character is either deceitful or evil.
This raises an essential question: did the film’s writer and director come across the information that many Muslims were slain by militants in the year 1990 alone? It’s unlikely that the film maker didn’t see this figure. However, it is neglected since it does not serves the director’s aims. For the propaganda that was being formulated, this bit of reality is inconvenient and uncomfortable. As a result, a small bit of the facts is presented as a whole piece of truth with the sole purpose of inciting people, which the film is doing really well.
Muslims are portrayed solely as murderers, lusting after women, advocating the killing of ‘Kafirs’, and refusing to sell Kashmiri Pandits goods. I’m not denying that didn’t happened. However, there isn’t a single Muslim with even a smidgen of humanity and all Muslims are shown as diabolical. This is not just improbable, but almost impossible.
Then there’s the JNU issue, as well as Radhika Menon’s persona. I believe the film makers have never met a JNU student. The version of JNU depicted in the film is the OpIndia version. Radhika Menon’s expressions are nothing short of a crass Ekta Kapoor’s diabolical saas (mother-in-law). Seriously, the 1980s called, they want their villain back.
Then there’s the naive hero stereotype, which we’ve already explored. The writer of this film was confronted with a difficulty: how to make it current and relevant. What if the hero is a JNU (here called ANU) student, he thought to himself. But it was at this point that the reality kicked in. A typical JNU student has a far broader perspective on the world than most vice presidents in multinational corporations. I’ve met enough JNU students to know that they challenge everything. Even the things they fervently believe in.
However, for a propaganda piece like this, a hero like that would be an issue. So they brainwashed him and turned him into a naive puppet of Marxism. He’s also the ideal Manchurian candidate for president of JNU. Before deciding to leave the Left and join the Congress, Kanhaiya Kumar must have met those four uncles from the film.
Imagine a film set in Kashmir that doesn’t even include a single shot of an army truck. The sole military imagery in the film is of air force officers who are slain by militants at the beginning.
Only the men of Kashmir Police are shown, and that too as cowards, but no army is visible. Why? Because this reality and truth are inconvenient aspects of Kashmir.
Simply showing an army convoy would have changed everything. It makes the problem seem less severe. It would have defeated the movie’s purpose. The propaganda would be exposed as a sham. In a wise move, the decision was made to never portray any military imagery in the film. Neither in the here and now, nor in the distant past. Once again, truth was distorted, and only a portion of the truth was offered to the audience.
It’s a difficult film to see and even more difficult to finish if you have a critical mind. It was almost torturous for me. While certain situations did elicit emotional responses, the manipulation became a source of discomfort. I had to wade through the film, reluctantly, and I’m the kind who cries at the drop of a hat. Its goal is to provoke more than evoke. I would have walked out halfway if I hadn’t planned to write this.
People may argue that the events shown in the film occurred, and they will be somewhat correct. However, as stated at the outset of this piece, the entire truth about anything can only be conveyed without omission, embellishment, or modification. Not only does truth demand context, but it also necessitates reference and circumstances.
And The Kashmir Files falls flat on its face in this regard. It’s a propaganda piece that only shows one version of events. Yes, the events are bitter, unpleasant and ugly facts. They are, nevertheless, deceptive, dishonest and incomplete. The Kashmir Files serves a purpose, and the purpose is propaganda.
Darab Farooqui is a screenplay writer. He wrote the screenplay for the films Dedh Ishqiya, Tigers and Notebook.