When it was released last year, ‘The Kashmir Files’ had generated cinematic and political controversies beyond measure. Now that it has won the Nargis Dutt Award for Best Feature Film in the National Integration category at the National Film Awards, the controversies have all returned to the public discourse with some Opposition leaders such as Tamil Nadu Chief Minister MK Stalin and former Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah calling it "shocking". The reactions in the Hindi film industry were also predictably divided with many icons preferring to remain silent.
Directed by Vivek Agnihotri, who has long been the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party’s darling in the industry and who has aggressively pushed the majoritarian agenda, the film focuses on the plight of Kashmiri Pandits who suffered unforgettable violence and were forced to leave Kashmir from January 1990 as Islamic fundamentalists began ethnic cleansing there. Kashmir has suffered untold agonies since, but the Hindu right-wing always believed that their suffering did not make it to the national mainstream — especially in cinema and literature — as the plight of Muslims later did.
Was it a story worth telling? Indeed, so, despite many Pandits having told it themselves over the decades. However, in the hands of a zealous and overtly-political filmmaker, the telling becomes over-dramatised, propagandist and, importantly, dishonest in its facts and framing. This is unpardonable, even dangerous given the reach that mainstream cinema has in not only setting public discourse but influencing entire generations of Indians. Facts mixed with manipulated politics never made great cinema; such a film winning an award for national integration is sacrilege. That the award named after the Dutts, who championed secularism and communal peace above all else, should go to such a film reeks of moral corruption in the establishment.
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