The aesthetic propaganda of Shikara

The aesthetic propaganda of Shikara

The moon of Kashmiri Pandits surely has blood clots on it, but that of Kashmiri Muslims is drenched in blood.

Asif Khan & Arbeena

With his latest film, Shikara, Vidhu Vinod Chopra has tried to revisit his motherland through the medium of cinema. The saga of a Kashmiri Pandit couple’s love during the calamitous times of the 1990s is his subject. Earlier, VidhuVinod Chopra had won the best director’s award for his film Mission Kashmir. He has also bagged awards for best screenplay for Lage Raho Munna Bhai and 3 Idiots. He and his illustrious body of work need no introduction.
Muslims, especially Kashmiris, have for long been yearning for fair representation in Indian cinema. But the glamorous Bollywood has always ignored them or made of them stereotypes. The Indian film industry has played its part in lifting the wave of Islamophobia in the country. Many Bollywood films have depicted evil Muslims as the enemies of India and Kashmiri Muslims are particularly prone to being portrayed in such roles. But often also, Kashmiri Muslims are portrayed as victims of terrorists and as patriotic Indian heroes. The valley of Kashmir itself is always shown as an alluring place full of beauty, love, and romance. Filmmakers work on different camera angles to capture it flawlessly. But when it comes to capturing the people by the same camera lens, the tripod seems to wobble. The lights turn dim and the focus blurs whenever a Kashmiri Muslim face appears. Movies like Roja, Mission Kashmir, Fanaa, Lamha, Yahaan, have all been guilty of distorting the image of Kashmiri Muslims. They have more often than not been portrayed as dangerous, violent, and as threats to the state.
The 120-minute movie, Shikara, is no exception. Its protagonists are a Kashmiri Pandit couple, Shiv Kumar Dhar (played by Aadil Khan) and Shanti Dhar (played by Sadia). Their happy married life is convulsed by the upheaval of the 1990s, when they are forced to leave their home and live as refugees in Jammu. But Shikara is tricky; it has this quality of almost looking balanced. The romance between the protagonists is shot in a poetic way. AR Rehman has once again shown his class by marrying his soul-stirring compositions to the stellar words of renowned lyricist Irshad Kamil. Rangarajan Ramabadran’s cinematography is worth praising and can be considered as one of his best works. The debutants, Aadil and Sadia, hold the attention of the audience till the end with their powerful acting. While Adil brings intensity by his confident performance, Sadia has fully managed to adapt to a Kashmiri Pandit’s character. It may be because their roots are in Kashmir.

Aey Vaadiye Shehzaadi bolo kaisi ho,
Bin tere khaali hun main, kya tum bhi waisi ho?

Shiv Kumar Dhar narrates this poem in an interior monologue to us. He is feeling nostalgic on his way back to his homeland along with his wife in 2008. The question he asks of his homeland is, without a doubt, legitimate. The words generate empathy and leave a lasting impression on the mind.

Shikara is, moreover, an idealistic love story providing love and hope as the solution to every problem in life. However, the movie may fall short of the expectations of Kashmiri Pandits. They may argue that love has been given precedence over the horrors of their migration. But Shikara prioritises love over hate and hopes to end the cycle of hatred which has existed ever since their migration. Although the story beautifully justifies the title, its tagline, “The Untold Story of Kashmiri Pandits,” is misleading because the audience would assume that the movie will provide a deeper insight into the sufferings of the Pandit community. However, the sufferings are shown in the backdrop of the love story and not at the forefront. The compromise shown in the movie that a home can be formed anywhere is unrealistic and unsatisfactory.
The film has almost kept away from politics. But certain scenes, like the telecast of a short clip of Benazir Bhutto’s speech, are meant to satisfy the popular notions of the people living in India. The use of that clip attributes the chaos in the valley to Pakistan, which is a false and inaccurate attribution.

Aey zalimon aey kafiron
Kashmir humara chhod do!

Slogans raised by the Kashmiris in the 1990s were against the oppression of the state, rather than the Pandit community. However, the movie shows them being raised against the Pandits. Lateef, Shiv’s best friend since childhood, is shown as a cricketer but when his father is killed, he picks up arms in an abrupt manner. The failure of the system which isn’t able to provide justice to the families of those who were killed is not depicted at all in the movie. Not every Kashmiri picks up a gun on losing a loved one.
The film depicts Kashmiris as if they were living happily after the migration of Pandits, but the barbarity which Kashmiris had to face before, during, and after the Pandit migration hasn’t been touched upon. Also, the role of the state in the migration of the Pandit community isn’t shown. The governor of J&K at the time, Jagmohan Malhotr, does not feature anywhere in the movie. How can Vidhu Vinod Chopra forget the Gaw Kadal massacre which took place two days after Jagmohan took over as the governor of the state? But why would the film depict that? After all, it is the story of Kashmiri Pandits, not Kashmiri Muslims. The film remains numb towards the pain of Kashmiri Muslims and is sensitive only to the pain of the Pandit community. The truth is, the pain of both communities is entwined. The film may exalt love but it has still drawn a line between Muslims and Pandits.
These complaints against the film do not mean that Kashmiri Muslims can overlook the suffering and pain of their Pandit brethren. In our view, the worst oppressor is the one who cannot empathise with the pain of others. If one has suffered, one should not be indifferent to the sufferings of others. We want to congratulate the filmmaker for at least showing the half picture. But as far as Kashmiri Muslims are considered, their pain cannot be depicted in any cinema of the world.
Kashmiri Muslims suffered brutal oppression even under Dogra rule. Their saga of pain and suffering seems never-ending. The film Shikara is masterly crafted and hence can be called as aesthetic propaganda. We say this because the film is propagating certain political notions in the garb a love story. The more you fall for this love story, the deeper your hate for Kashmiri Muslims will grow. Many filmmakers have had to modify parts of their movies fearing public backlash. Be it Panipat or Padmavat, even big-banner films had to make changes so as to not offend public sentiment. But when Kashmiri Muslims are concerned, filmmakers have nothing to worry about. They can represent Kashmiri Muslims in any way they want. The audience tends to like anything which is anti-Muslim.
Kashmiri actors who feature in films like Shikara need to think before acting in such films. Though they may not be briefed about the full story, it is their responsibility to choose and act morally at a time when they are being misrepresented. We want this movie to be watched by everyone. The moon of Kashmiri Pandits surely has blood clots on it, but that of Kashmiri Muslims is drenched in blood. All we want is that Bollywood must also empathise with Kashmiri Muslims in the way it does with Kashmiri Pandits.
The filmmaker has told his story. We are writing only as his protagonist does, expecting no response.

The writers are students of Mass Communication & Journalism, University of Kashmir

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