Release Date: 11/03/2022

Cast: Anupam Kher, Darshan Kumaar, Mithun Chakraborty, Puneet Issar, Prakash Belawadi, Atul Srivastava, Pallavi Joshi, Chinmay Mandlekar

Director: Vivek Ranjan Agnihotri

The plight of the Kashmiri Hindus living in Kashmir in 1990s got buried under a nation’s insatiable desire to remain pseudo-secular and thoughtful of not hurting all other religions and ideologies except that of the Hindus. The inability of this country and its people to accept a genocide for what it was not only betrayed a generation of some of the most educated and cultured human beings but also condemned them to a life of sufferings, pain, and submission to a fate that was chosen for them by a set of individuals who were working for nothing more than a religiously fueled political agenda. The government stood and watched as Kashmiri Hindus wailed for help. Shockingly, help never arrived.

Hindus, refugees in their own country, died of snake bites, diseases, and harsh weather conditions. These were the lucky ones. The ones who couldn’t make it out of Kashmir in time lost their lives and dignity in a far more horrifying manner. Vivek Ranjan Agnihotri in “The Kashmir Files” attempts to bring forth some of these untold stories. He also tries to draw parallels with the modern Urban Naxal’s narrative that has been created to dismiss the genocide and make the victims guilty of their own gruesome fate.

Krishna Pandit (Darshan Kumaar), the grandson of a Kashmiri Pandit, Pushkar Nath Pandit (Anupam Kher) has seen his grandfather advocate the removal of Article 370 of the Indian Constitution from Kashmir for as long as he could remember. He is a student at the prestigious ANU (name changed from JNU) and is inspired by an Urban Naxal teacher of the university, Radhika (Pallavi Joshi). After spending some time in her company, he is brainwashed to the extent that he decides to contest the university elections with the freedom of Kashmir as his primary election agenda.

Pushkar Nath passes away just days before Krishna’s final election speech. As his final wish, Pushkar Nath requests Krishna to take his ashes back to Kashmir and sprinkle them in his old and now dilapidated home, in the presence of his four dearest friends. Krishna arrives in Kashmir, meets his grandfather’s friends and his life is changed forever. He learns things that no textbook ever taught any Indian. In the accounts of the people who are no more, he finds answers to all the questions that plagued him throughout his life. He not only learns about the plight of the Kashmiri Hindus but also about the gruesome fate that befell his family in those torrid times.

“The Kashmir Files” left me stunned. It is an amalgamation of numerous individual bits that organically gel together to present a gut-wrenching picture of the events that led to the genocide and exodus of the Hindus from Kashmir. A devoted wife and mother of two is forcibly fed raw rice that is soaked in her dead husband’s blood. A mother is stripped and paraded in front of men before she is cut into half using an electric saw that is used to slice wood. A respected man and his son are dragged out of their home on the pretext of providing safety and security and are later found nailed to trees. Three air force officers are sprayed with bullets seconds after they have a sweet verbal exchange with a little girl. The shooting takes place in her full view. A vegetable vendor looks a top government official in the eye and gives him a Pakistani currency note in exchange for Indian rupees. When he is arrested, he shows no fear and threatens the men arresting him with dire consequences.

Every scene in the film presents either a picture of the horrifying treatments that the Kashmiri Hindus had to endure or shows us the decay of their moral and mental states due to the atrocities that they had to withstand without the shoulder of the government machinery and security forces to lean on. Most of the story of the 1990s is seen through the eyes of Pushkar Nath Pandit. He is depicted as someone who has friends in the government, administration, police, and press, and yet he has to endure unspeakable horrors. This just goes on to show what might have been the plight of the lesser privileged. I don’t know how many of the audiences will think about this aspect of the tragedy but I surely did.  

The film is laced with powerful performances from the ensemble cast. Chinmay Mandlekar is the face of the Islamic terror that fell on the Kashmiri Hindus. His character derives its traits and elements from multiple real figures who terrorized the masses during the genocide and he successfully sells every aspect of the character. To see someone who publicly accepts to have killed numerous people walk comfortably in a room and lecture a student on what the soul of the nation is was repulsive but at the same time eye-opening. Not many will speak of his performances but I think it is one of the best performances in the entire film.

Vivek Ranjan Agnihotri reserves his worst for his wife. As was the case with The Tashkent Files, Pallavi Joshi once again plays a character that will be universally loathed. She is that typical Urban Naxal professor who we have seen spew venom against the country on numerous occasions. Her rendition of the character cuts so close to some of the real people that I love to hate that her performance assumed a lot more meaning and depth for me. Agnihotri shoots her in a lot of close-ups to capture the expression of conviction and fulfillment on her face that she is drunk on every time she corrupts the mind of an impressionable student. This adds a lot more to her performance. Pallavi Joshi uses this opportunity to stamp her authority as the primary antagonist of the story.

Darshan Kumaar as the impressionable and confused Krishna is a revelation. He wears his confusion on his face and that does a lot for the character. We witness in his rendition the arch of a character that starts off as someone who relates with the cause of the Urban Naxals and ridicules his grandfather. He never cares to learn what drives his grandfather to do the things that he does. He even believes that his family died in an accident. When he meets a dreaded terrorist, he is easily cajoled into believing that the genocide of the Kashmiri Hindus was a lie. He has to drudge through a sea of pungent lies and deceit before he reaches the clear blue waters of truth and it is then that he comes into his own. Kumaar beautifully documents Krishna’s journey through his rendition and makes every aspect of the journey memorable.

The five stalwarts of Indian cinema, Anupam Kher, Mithun Chakraborty, Puneet Issar, Prakash Belawadi, and Atul Srivastava add credibility to the characters that they are playing and bring a sense of realism and organic morose to the overall mood of the film with their temperamental dialogues and somber drama. It is through their dialogues that a large portion of the film is revealed. Each of the four men owed Pushkar Nath Pandit a semblance of security or support that they were unable to provide. They have lived fulfilling lives but are bogged down by the weight of what they should have done for the Kashmiri Hindus but never did. This longing to do something right but to have failed to do it is documented wonderfully by the four stalwarts’ through their essay. 

Anupam Kher is haunting in his depiction of Pushkar Nath. The horrors that he is shown enduring and his reactions to some of these moments will make you look away. Even some of the more nuanced and minimalistic scenes that document the personal moments of the man and the pain that he is enduring were alone worth the price of admission.

I loved the visual aesthetics of the film and the manner in which it is shot. Many of the tense moments were captured using a handheld camera and shaky movements. This added to the sense of tension and chaos and augured well for the presentation of the story. Having said that, the visual effects of the film were atrocious; especially the scene where we see terrorist gun down people. The computer-generated blood marred the realism and impact of a scene that should have been harrowing to experience. On the contrary, the sound design of the film was great. The sound design in the scene where we see the terrorist forcefully feed raw rice to a wife that is soaked in her husband’s blood sent shivers down my spine. The film drags in a few brief bits but then picks up with renewed vigor.

The Kashmir Files is a resounding slap on the faces of all who have denied or questioned the genocide of the Kashmiri Hindus. This is one of the darkest chapters in our history and should be experienced by every Indian to understand the quantum of pain and sufferings that our own brothers and sisters had to endure just for being Hindus. This film will prove to be a wake-up call for many and will for the first time redirect the weapons that the Urban Naxals have been using against the country for ages against them in an effective manner.

Rating: 4/5 (4 out of 5 Stars) 


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