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Why All The Fuss Over The Kashmir Files?

By VIRENDRA KAPOOR
April 04, 2022 18:24 IST
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Why is everyone getting so het up over what, after all, is a mere film?
If you don't like it, don't watch it.
Why create a public spectacle over it? asks Virendra Kapoor.

IMAGE: The Kashmir Files poster.
 

Never before in recent times has a film evoked such strong feelings, bitterly dividing people on political and religious lines as has The Kashmir Files.

The low-budget film, purportedly shining a belated light on the 1989-1990 barbaric killings and forced evictions of Kashmiri Pandits from the Valley, has touched a raw nerve in the minority community.

Members of the majority community, however, have given the film a huge thumbs up, making it a huge box office success.

Also, the film has forced the Opposition on the back foot which accuses the Modi government of patronising a divisive propaganda film.

The liberal-left-secular crowd has predictably panned the 170-minute Vivek Agnihotri film as C-Grade, their agony rising manifold due to its stupendous success.

According to trade pundits, the film had crossed the Rs 200 crore (Rs 2 billion) mark in the first two weeks of its release.

But why is everyone getting so het up over what, after all, is a mere film? If you don't like it, don't watch it. Why create a public spectacle over it?

Lots of films come every Friday and vanish without a trace soon thereafter.

Why is Agnihotri's film, which has a couple of good actors, including Anupam Kher, himself a Kashmiri Pandit, but no big stars, evoked such extreme passions, that has public intellectuals and politicians slugging it out most acrimoniously.

The answer lies in the sheer simplicity of the story-telling.

Agnihotri focuses, albeit from the point of the view of those who were at the receiving end of the jihadi violence in Kashmir, and paints the terrorists guilty of a virtual pogrom against Kashmiri Pandits (Read Hindus).

It goes without saying that the perpetrators of the barbaric killings are Muslims.

In particular, he recreates two real-life heartrending incidents which triggered the exodus of Pandits, ejecting them at the point of the sword from their ancestral homes.

Because there was no 24x7 television channel then, the targeted killings did not receive due public notice.

The V P Singh government, with the first, and, thus far only, Muslim as home minister, Mufti Mohammad Syed, a Kashmiri himself, was in the saddle in Delhi.

The government was supported by BJP from outside.

It and successive governments that came after it were guilty of sidestepping the issue of the Pandits's killings and evictions.

Now, thanks to the renewed focus on the criminal neglect of the Kashmir Pandits, the main accused, the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front's Farooq Ahmad Dar alias Bitta Karate, is finally set to face trial for murder -- thirty-one years after the heinous killings.

The first hearing in the case was held last week in Srinagar.

Significantly, Bitta in a BBC interview had confessed that he had indeed committed those cold-blooded murders.

Agnihotri's film may not win great marks for aesthetics and cinematic excellence, though Kher, as expected, is very convincing. But it certainly scores big on telling a real-life story with the force of a multi-million megaton emotional bomb.

Ten-twelve days after its release when I went to see the film, managing to get but poorly located seats in the mid-section of the hall, one experienced first-hand how it worked on the tear ducts of everyone in the packed hall that Sunday afternoon.

High emotion mixed with anger against the jihadis was the universal reaction.

Barely did one see a Muslim in the audience which was overwhelmingly middle-class.

The Kashmir Files re-enacts the gut-wrenching savagery, with an AK-47 wielding Bitta Karate lining up dozens of terrified Kashmiri men, women and children, and killing them one after another from close range.

Deep anger and anxiety was the natural reaction of the audience.

Let us turn to the criticism against the film.

To begin with, it is said that the film needlessly focuses only on the killings of Kashmiri Pandits whereas even Muslims have been killed in jihadi terror.

No doubt, scores of Muslims too have been targeted by the Kashmiri separatists. But not one of them was killed because he was a Muslim.

It is claimed that the film lacks the finesse, the artistic nuance and is pure propaganda.

But, then, even a poorly crafted film has a right to be screened.

If the audiences disapprove, it will vanish without a trace within a week.

Critics are wrong to pretend as if they alone are the sole arbiters of good cinema. In any case, if bringing to celluloid the real-life events is propaganda, so be it.

No one who is accusing Agnihotri of producing a bad film has said that the events depicted did not take place, that the story of the Pandits's killing and exodus is false.

To say that the film glorifies violence too is wrong. Usual commercial Bollywood movies have more blood and gore that The Kashmir Files.

Finally, the charge that the film spreads hatred.

Scores of films depicting in minute horrific detail the killing of over six million Jews in the Holocaust were widely admired for their realistic depiction of Hitler's death factories.

No one accused the producers of spreading hate against Germans. Indeed, Germans too screened these films which gave a peep into a dark chapter in their history. They did not complain that Hollywood was painted them in bad, hateful light.

Which brings me to my final point.

Germans, having disowned and disavowed and distanced themselves from their sordid past under Adolf Hitler, were one with the world in condemning the Holocaust.

Few Germans argued that the victors of the First World War imposed such humiliating terms on Germany that it justified the rise of Hitler and thereafter the Holocaust.

But here those who condemn The Kashmir Files and protest against the belated focus on the Pandits's killings are unready to distance themselves from the Kashmiri insurgents, arguing that they have reason to feel aggrieved a la Hitler after the humiliating terms imposed on Germany by the victors of World War I.

Feature Presentation: Aslam Hunani/Rediff.com

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