It is stating the obvious that ‘The Kashmir Files’ is a contentious and gut-wrenching film made on a modest budget of Rs 15 crores but happens to be a huge box-office success. While box-office success is important, it can’t be the only consideration for judging a film and its impact; more so, when a film like The Kashmir Files claims to be a hidden history that each patriot is obliged to watch. It is therefore important to analyse it from the perspective of history and decode the reasons for its success.
It is a known fact that several BJP-ruled state governments have granted the film tax exemption to encourage people to watch it in greater numbers. Not only the ruling party has put its might behind the controversial film, which is believed to document the ‘genocide’ and exodus of Kashmiri Hindus from the Kashmir Valley, but none other than Prime Minister Narendra Modi has himself certified the film’s ‘truth telling’ properties, saying that it puts history in the ‘right perspective’ and has rattled the whole ‘jamaat’ (gang) that went to town about the need to assert freedom of expression.
The prime minister has also used the movie as an opportunity to slam his political opponents and critics, alleging that those who oppose the film are the ones who tried to hide the truth about the violence inflicted on Hindus in what was India’s only Muslim majority state. It is not difficult to comprehend the reasons behind Modi’s wholehearted support for the film as also the support from almost all BJP-ruled states, with some chief ministers explicitly backing it personally. Given such overwhelming political support from the ruling dispensation at the Centre and in many states, combined with the popular support of the majority community, it is not difficult to understand what has ensured the movie’s box-office glory.
But it’s not only the box-office glory that matters when a film, as its screenwriter and director Vivek Agnihotri puts it, ‘is entirely based on facts’. However, the director’s claim, the prime minister’s and his party’s support for the films can’t be the sole criteria to vouch for the film’s adherence to historical facts. After all, truth is sacrosanct, but perspective is subjective. Apparently, the film has kicked up a row because it is said by its detractors to be a ‘selective and convenient’ account of the plight of Kashmiri Pandits, who were targeted by the militants and forced to flee the Kashmir Valley, that suits the larger divisive narrative of the ruling dispensation.
Incidentally, the film has come just when the Assembly Election in UP – marked by sharp religious polarisation -- was winding up.
It is odd to see festering anti-Muslim feelings in a section of the society because of events that occurred in Kashmir three decades ago. Ironically, the Muslim community as a whole is being blamed for what happened in Kashmir in the early 1990s. Muslims in the rest of India have hardly identified with the Muslims in Kashmir and when militancy and insurgency began in the Valley in 1989, it left Muslims in the rest of India unmoved and unaffected. The concerns of Muslims in the rest of India have always been different from the concerns of Muslims in Kashmir. That is still true, even after the abrogation of Articles 370 and 35(a) in 2019.
True, since the film is not a documentary, it is entitled to cinematic license. But artistic latitude comes with a certain responsibility. The fact that the exodus of the Kashmiri Pandits took place cannot be dismissed as a figment of imagination. It is also true that it was not a usual migration. But when the film is touted as a slice of Kashmir’s recent history, then it should be held accountable for the picture it presents. And when this picture is one-dimensional, a piece of art can become a handy tool for weaving a polarising narrative against a community. After all, the historical correctness of a stirring piece of art is only a matter of perspective from the vantage point of whoever is in power.
Supporters of the film have called it a correction of a historic wrong and some have called it an act of catharsis. But there are no authentic figures of how many Kashmiri Pandits were killed and how many fled the valley during the violence. Estimates vary significantly and these are touted to support the argument that what happened to Kashmiri Pandits during the militancy was an act of ‘genocide’. But the fact is there are many Kashmiri Pandits still living in the Valley and it would be wrong to paint all Kashmiri Muslims as hostile people who colluded in the persecution of the Kashmiri Pandits.
Kashmir has been in a mess for various reasons. Both Muslims and Pandits have suffered because of militancy and bear the scars of the conflict. Even today, after the abrogation of Article 370, the erstwhile state is a zone of armed conflict. When militancy was at its peak in 1990, the year in which the film is set, the government at the Centre was a coalition headed by V. P. Singh with help from the Left and the BJP. And for all their concerns now, the BJP did nothing for the fleeing Pandits then. It hasn’t done much for them after coming to power in 2014 either.
(The views of the writer are personal. The writer is an independent Mumbai-based senior journalist)
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