Reviewing ‘The Kashmir Files:’ Decades of cries finally heard

As an Indian, speaking about this film is as much important as it is heart breaking. For decades the media has been trying to change the narrative of what truly happened in Kashmir.

12 mins read

“My bua (Aunt, Girija Tickoo) was thrown into a taxi, with 5 men (one of them being her colleague), who tortured her, raped her, and then brutally murdered her by cutting her alive with a carpenter saw. Imagine being the brother who had to recognize his Babli, who wasn’t at fault in this gruesome battle of total hypocrisy. Till this date I’ve never heard anyone from my family speak about this incident. My father tells me every brother lived in such shame and anger that nothing had been done to receive justice for my Babli Bua.”

Siddhi Raina

The Kashmiri Pandits have been denied Justice for the very inhumane Genocide that took place on Jan. 19, 1990 and have been constantly side lined. Today, even the world doesn’t seem to recognize Kashmir as a part of India. If we look at the maps by the United Nations (UN), we would see that Kashmir has been shown as a separate entity rather than a part of India.

As for the movie “The Kashmir Files,” its story is a very amazing and dramatized version with a very strong script inspired by real events, and it keeps getting layered the more you engage with it. 

The film makes sense because not only is it written after consulting 700 families of the victims, but it also backs up those accounts with evidence. 

I came across a few stories while studying those attestations. I’m writing in honor of the Kashmiri Pandits who lost their lives, their homes, and are dreaming every day to go back to where they rightfully belong.

“When we started researching four years ago, we came across families who’ve lost their loved ones during the exodus. We’ve all lost someone, that’s the way it is. But the way they lost them, the way they were murdered, what happened with their mothers, sisters, the unspeakable acts, I don’t even want to mention it here. The small innocent children, some of whom were so small that they never even had a chance to dream of what they could become when they grow up, they were murdered. When we met such people, we got more than seven hundred testimonies. We took long format interviews of everyone, video interviews. When we heard the stories of these people, we couldn’t ourselves believe that this much inhumanity/ Cruelty had happened with them. And while listening, we wondered how so much happened in our country and we never knew about it.”

Pallavi Joshi

The acting in “The Kashmir Files”  is very convincing. At times, during talks, it feels like a staged drama but when the intensity keeps on increasing we start to blend in and, until we realize , we’re a part of it. 

Chinmay Mandlekar, who plays the role of terrorist Farooq Malik Bitta, does such a convincing job that, as from the stories I heard, there were people throwing shoes at the screen. 

That’s the best way I could describe how convincing the acting is, conveying the evil aspect of the character. He’s like Imelda Staunton’s Dolores Umbridge from “Harry Potter and the Order of the Pheonix (2007)” or Jack Gleeson’s Joffery Baratheon from “Game of Thrones, acting so convincing that we automatically hate the character. This was my first time that I was exposed to Marathi’s talent and I’d love to explore more of their cinema. 

Anupam Kher is the dramatic side of this film. Not only do we get to see an emotional side, which is deeply rooted with the real life people that inspired the creation of Pushkar Nath Pandit, but there’s some theatricality to his performance, which brings me to the Indian art of  “Natyashastra.” 

He’s the pariah who is made to witness all the events as they happen. There’s pain in his character that makes us go through it with him. I remember watching interviews and listening to a lady saying how they had to run for their lives and, after all these years, people are finally listening but her father doesn’t remember anything anymore. 

That’s the pain which is shared through Pushkar Nath Pandit. For a character, he’s still the strongest one because, how does a person really stay on point with what he wants to do after witnessing so much death and destruction? 

His body and mind are losing him but he still has the fire in him that seeks for justice. The movie works directly with the audience in several such circumstances.

Mithun Chakraborty has a presence. Whenever he’s on the screen, we can feel as if he’s the big wise giant with a massive scar that he’s been trying to hide over decades. The camera work while he was on screen was amazingly convincing. 

There’s a scene were a small kid is distributing pamphlets asking Pandits to leave Kashmir, that is the scale of how it felt. A kid looking at a giant. That was his presence. 

Darshan Kumar as Krishna Pandit in “The Kashmir Files.”

Pallavi Joshi does an amazing job as someone who’s trying to be in the negative role of someone brainwashing the youth to fulfill her mission of making them go against the Government. 

A lot of ideological ironies happened with her character that further justified the point of the film’s political structure. While thinking and discussing about her character arc, we come to a point where the realization of how successful her plan would be if she could get a Hindu as a leader of a movement that represents Muslims. 

She was like the puppeteer and everyone were merely her marionettes  throughout, until one ended up catching the strings. There’s a shot where’s she’s singing “Hum Dekhenge” and the focus goes to her hand and, as she waives it, everyone starts yelling “Azadi,” which in a way symbolizes the puppeteer ideology. 

When we talk politics, it’s usually what happens on both sides. Brainwashing, misguiding, sugarcoating, etc — filmmakers made a point to highlight these aspects. 

Darshan Kumar’s portrayal is that of a brainwashed students who, just like us, believes the word of mouth and ends up falling for the bait but eventually ends up with files of evidence. 

That’s when he gives the very amazingly written monologue in one take which, on every watch, makes our eyes stick to the screen. The voice is so strong with emotion that it’s impossible to ignore. 

I loved the little callback when his grandfather, Pushkar Nath Pandit (Anupam Kher) said, in a flashback, “Mother Saraswati is the Goddess of knowledge. Sharda is another name of Saraswati. In darkness, Sharda shall show you the light.” 

In the end, after knowing that he had been supporting the very people who murdered his parents, he comes to light. Sharda took him to the light. He lashes it all out in that very speech that criticizes everything that is wrong with the system and how the youth, metaphorically and philosophically, is the cause of genocide because, not only they deny the existence of such a heinous act, they stand with the very people who caused it. 

The government back then is happily inviting the criminals responsible shaking hands as if they are long lost friends. There’s a strong criticism against such acts in his speech. 

Basha Sumbli, who plays Sharda Pandit, has one of the most heartbreaking arcs ever. So many real stories were told through her. She suffered a great deal after losing her husband being molested by Maulvis and stripped publicly and, at the end, being cut down by a carpenter’s saw. It was hard to look at the screen. 

The cinematography of this film is very Beautiful, scary and bold. The shots of Kashmir being the beautiful ones. Shots of the brainwashing sessions being the scary ones and the shots of all the murders being the bold ones. It was difficult to look at the screen at times. Especially when they show Sharda’s death sequence which was made to highlight what happened to Girija Tickoo in real life. A very inhumane act of violence. 

“When it came to our acting, we had to lock our emotions and keep them aside, because when it came to the character of Radhika Menon and how it was to be portrayed, if I hadn’t done it that way, then the other narrative that has kept these people’s voices unheard for so long, that’d have been difficult to bring out. Because I’d have flown in with the same emotion as them (victims). Hence, I had to remove the emotions out of my consciousness and I had to focus on the character”

Pallavi Joshi

in real life. A very inhumane act of violence. 

The choice to keep this films narrative a non linear one was perfect. Going back and forth with amazing pacing was very good even though, at very rare times, the film feels like it’s going slow. 

Those very scenes end up coming back full circle by the end of the film. The choice to cut to the scene where Farooq Bitta kills 24 innocents, referencing to “The Nandimarg massacre,” was a perfect choice after the speech rather than showing the reaction of the students because, in the end, we are those very people. 

The film talks about the Kashmir Genocide from different perspectives, one of them being the youth. It takes us on a journey from the perspective of a left wing student who is being manipulated by his teacher who happens to be close to a terrorist who caused Genocide in Kashmir back in Jan. 19, 1990. 

The film follows a very ironic narrative where the student, Krishna Pandit (Darshan Kumar), son of victims who were brutally murdered in Kashmir, believes that no genocide took place because he wasn’t taught that in his institute. Instead, he claims that everyone who thinks differently is brainwashed. At a particular scene, he blames the Hindus for being the oppressors and justifies the Genocide saying it is something that happened because the minorities were so tired of oppression. 

Why do Kashmiri Muslim children have to grow up without knowing their parents? Who hears their nameless voice? Who will give them justice? Who will give them freedom? 

On the contrary, we are shown that Krishna has never known who his parents were either. Which, in fact, is inspired by a true story. As a thematic, this comes full circle during the final act of the film when the students of the university perform a song called “Hum Dekhenge (we’ll see)” by Faiz Ahmed Faiz during the electoral speech day.

Faiz was a communist who employed traditional religious imagery to attack political structures in his quest for revolution. 

Now, originally, this song was written by Faiz Ahmed Faiz in 1979, two years after a military coup in Pakistan by General Zia-ul-Haq and sung by Iqbal Bano in 1986. The poem called out Zia, in a very philosophical sense of the way and criticized him for being a worshipper of power and not Allah. The song criticized those who saw themselves as Gods and idols and spoke against them saying, “Jab arz-e-khuda ke kaabe se, Sab but uthwaaye jaayenge Hum ahl-e-safa mardood-e-haram masnad par baithaye jaayenge.”

The translation of this verse goes something like, “When from the abode of God (Kaaba) all idols will be removed, Then we the faithful, who were debarred from sacred places, Will be placed on the royal seat.”

This song was written to criticize oppressive systems and not the God fearing, God loving beliefs of the people, which is why I often term the use of this song as controversial because people tend to refer to it without understanding the proper meaning of it. 

It came out at a time when Pakistan and its people had been forced into submission by Zia’s military regime.

Sarees were banned in Pakistan as it was against Pakistani culture and Iqbal Bano sang this song in a crowd full of people wearing a black saree in retaliation.

Since then, it’s been a voice against oppression. Calling it anti-Hindu doesn’t make sense, nor does using it to hide the truth about what happened. 

Now, while using this song in the electoral campaign where they were forming a movement to “Free Kashmir,” they were implying that it’s the state that is oppressing them. 

The movie established how the genocide was neglected, denied and, when spoken of, the students further denied its existence. In a way, they end up being the reason for the genocide. This is also then called out by Krishna in his speech when he blamed the youth. 

The film offers accurate descriptions on how the world reacted to the transgression. The newspaper snippets, the TV recordings and its recreations and stories all are accurate. Even the words used are accurate. The film criticizes the media system and how they hide the real news, changing it with “fake news” instead. 

This also calls out hypocrisy for singing the song because, the music literally criticized those who act like gods and messiahs and she endorses the very thing that the song is criticizing. 

If she really believed in the freedom of the people, she could’ve done the same without denying and brainwashing students about the genocide. It happened and acknowledging the event should’ve been the way to go. But just like her, everyone is brainwashed to the 

core. We have a scene in a hospital where an Islamist terrorist asks the doctors to not treat the Kafirs or non-Muslims because it’s an “Allah ka Farman” or “An order from God.” 

We get a clear picture of how they terrorized the locals with slogans like “Raliv, Galiv ya Chaliv” (Convert, die or run) and how the youth uses system’s secular nature as a loophole to encourage a non-secular act by wanting to make Kashmir an Islamic republic.

While the filmmakers were researching the exodus they came cross a man who lived in Kashmir with his wife and a little girl. They were expecting their second child. 

The man was in Jammu for work when he heard about what was happening back in Kashmir. He immediately rushed there to rescue his wife and child. 

Anupam Kher as his grandfather, Pushkar Nath Pandit and Mithun Chakraborty as IAS Brahma Dutt in “The Kashmir Files.”

They did not have time to pack any clothes or necessities and, when they started living in the camps of Jammu, they shared tents with 10 to 15 people and there they realized that they have nothing left and it’d be impossible for them to pay for the life and education of two children. With a heavy heart, they aborted the second child. 

All so they could focus on the one child who is already suffering with them. 

This reminded me of the movie “For Sama” where a mother apologies to her daughter throughout the documentary for bringing her into the “cruel world.” The pain is universal.

It was very irresponsible of the government back then to give ₹2 Lakh to the families of the terrorists who decided to surrender and only ₹600 a month to those who were living in the refugee camps. 

The government scheme to reward ₹2 lakh had become a loophole within the terrorist community where they would buy weapons with the money and surrender more of their men.

The part about how parents sacrificed so much for their children hits me the most because that is something even my parents continually do for me. I am a rigid and egoistic person and I never truly acknowledge it, but my parents have sacrificed so much of their happiness for me and, when I saw Pushkar Nath Pandit choose the cheap lenses so he can afford education for his children despite having so many diseases, I was in tears during every watch. 

We as children may end up being selfish but our parents, they’d happily give their lives for us. Even if they seem so harsh. It’s all because they want to see the best of us. 

When it comes to giving a life, Sharda suffered a great deal. She ate the blood soaked rice so her children and father-in-law could survive and lived all her life trying to hide from the rapist tyrants who eventually made her strip in front of everyone, ultimately killing her with a carpenter saw. It’s so harsh and no part was sugarcoated.  

When people come to say they finally feel like someone understood their pain, they are absolutely right about it. 

Not only did the directors understood it, they made us all go through it. 

No political motivations are covered and endless debates have led the country into ruins. 

More-so they keep debating. They are the reason to why Kashmiri Hindus and moderate Muslims were never given the justice they deserve. 

This film acts on the solid proof as to why we need to keep politics aside for a moment and focus on what really matters. 

If we start talking politics, it goes both ways to a never ending extent. 

One event leading to another, and that’s a big chronology. 

While discussing this film, people go, “I’m not supporting it unless they acknowledge the other incident that happened back in the day.” 

That really is just going to end up in a big loop until we all forget it… again. 

Rating this movie is not something I’m going to do here. However, I urge people to watch this film. It’s a necessity.

Jainam Turakhia

Jainam Turakhia has been a fan of DC for as long as he can remember, but what really tickles his inner creativity is Zack Snyder's vision for the DC Universe. From there Turakhia has traveled to a lot of destinations exploring works of other artists who make movies or write books/comics. Zack Snyder however, is always his hometown. He loves watching, and analyzing, anything and everything. Still a student from India studying Chartered Accountancy, Turakhia's passion for stories doesn't seem to end.

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