Shikara Movie Review: Heart-wrenching, Yet Aesthetic Propaganda

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Asif Khan & Arbeena

WITH his recent release, SHIKARA, Vidhu Vinod Chopra tries to revisit his motherland through the love saga of a Kashmiri Pandit couple during the migration of Kashmiri Pandits in the 1990s. Earlier Vidhu Vinod Chopra had won the best director’s award for his film Mission Kashmir (a film again based on Kashmir). He has also bagged the best screenplay award for Lage Raho Munna Bhai and 3 Idiots respectively. So, he and his marvellous work clearly needs no introduction.

Muslims, especially Kashmiris, have for long been yearning for fair representation in the Indian cinema. But the glamorous state of Bollywood has always given them a deaf ear and a myopic eye. The consequence being; rise in Islamophobia. The Indian film industry has for long been auctioning Islamophobia and the trend is just increasing day by day.

Many Bollywood films carve out the enemy from Muslims and their treatment towards Kashmiri Muslims is no exception. They tend to present another side as either victims or heroes. The filmmakers have always showcased Kashmir as an appealing place that signifies glory, love, and romance. They leave no stone unturned to work on different camera angles to capture it flawlessly. But the depiction of its people by the same camera lenses is seen wobbling. Their lights turn dim and lenses blur when focusing on its people. The research and representation of its Muslim community look as erroneous and distorted as their flawless camera work. The movies like Roja, Mission Kashmir, Fanaa, Lamha, Yahaan, all have been guilty of narrowing the spectrum of representation of Kashmiri Muslims. A piece of art and fiction on Kashmir has always portrayed them as dangerous, violent, and a threat to the state.

The 120-minutes long movie, Shikara, based on the love story of a Kashmiri Pandit couple, Shiv Kumar Dhar (Aadil Khan) and Shanti Dhar (Sadia), amidst the chaos of the 1990s in Kashmir valley, is no exception. There married life turns upside down as they are forced to leave their home and made to live as refugees in Jammu. But Shikara is tricky, emotional and has this quality of almost looking balanced.

The romance between the main protagonists is shot in a poetic way. However, the movie walks through the same lane as other films in the past by falling for over glamorisation of the valley. A.R 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 the interior monologue to us, feeling nostalgic on his way to his homeland along with his wife in 2008. This sobbing question from the main protagonist to his homeland without a doubt is legitimate. It is able to generate empathy among the audience as the narration is strong and austere. Shiv’s poetry complements the story till the end and leaves 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 on the expectations of Kashmiri Pandits. They may voice for a dishonest treatment in the movie, and love being given precedence over the horrors of immigration. Shikara prioritizes 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, Shikara, its tagline, “The Untold Story of Kashmiri Pandits,” is misleading since any viewer 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 in the movie of forming home anywhere is again bleak and unrealistic.

The film has almost been kept away from politics surrounding the immigration. But certain scenes like that of the telecast of a short clip of Benazir Bhutto’s speech, are guilty of satisfying the popular notions of the people living in India. The usage of that clip attributes the chaos in the valley totally to Pakistan, thereby, giving out a wrong message.

“Aey zalimoun aey kafiroun

Kashmir humara chod do!”

Such slogans raised in the film were basically against the oppression of the state rather than the Pandit community. However, the movie portrays it in a way as if they were raised against the Pandits.

Lateef, Shiv’s best friend since childhood, is shown as a cricket fanatic but as his father is killed, he is shown picking up arms in an abrupt manner. The failure of the system which isn’t able to impart justice to the families of those who get killed isn’t given a space in the movie as is the scenario in Kashmir. Not every Kashmiri picks up a gun on losing a loved one.

The film remains numb towards Kashmiri Muslims but sensitive to Pandit community. While none suffered independently, the pain of both communities was entwined. The film may look to give love more space but has drawn a line between Kashmiri Muslims and Kashmiri Pandits.

The film depicts Kashmiris as if they were living happily after the immigration of Pandits but the barbarity which Kashmiris had to face before, during, or even after their migration hasn’t been touched. Also, the role of the state in the migration of the Pandit community isn’t given heed. Even the then- controversial governor, Jagmohan Malhotra’s role isn’t shown 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? Kashmiris were killed, but why would the film depict that? After all, it is the story of Pandits, not Kashmiri Muslims. The film remains numb towards Kashmiri Muslims but sensitive to Pandit community. While none suffered independently, the pain of both communities was entwined. The film may look to give love more space but has drawn a line between Kashmiri Muslims and Kashmiri Pandits.

But all this doesn’t license us to overlook the sufferings and pain of our Pandit brethren. In our view, the worst oppressor is the sufferer who isn’t able to empathize with the pain of others. Especially if one has suffered, he should not turn blind 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 screened in any cinema of the world. No matter how emotional film you make, the sufferings of Kashmiri Muslims is beyond any imagination.

In our view, the worst oppressor is the sufferer who isn’t able to empathize with the pain of others. Especially if one has suffered, he should not turn blind to the sufferings of others. We want to congratulate the filmmaker for at least showing the half picture.

Kashmiri Muslims were the recipients of brutal oppression even under Dogra rule and the saga of pain and suffering for them seems never-ending. The film stirs the emotions as it is masterly crafted and hence, makes up aesthetic propaganda. We say this because the film is propagating certain notions behind a love story. The more you tend to like this love story, deeper your hate for Kashmiri Musims will grow.

Filmmakers at different instances are seen modifying sections of their movies fearing public backlash. Be it Panipat or Padmavat, many big films had to amend changes in order to respect public sentiments. But when Kashmiri Muslims are to be focused upon, filmmakers have nothing to worry about as they represent the conflict-torn population the way they want. They go to any extent even moulding the historical characters in a way that is hurtful to Muslims and profitable to filmmakers. Somehow, the audience entering cinema halls tends to like anything which is anti- Muslim.

Kashmiri actors who surface in films like Shikara need also to think before acting in such films. Though, they may not be briefed about the story, it is their responsibility to choose and act morally at a time when they are misrepresented.

We want this movie to be watched by everyone and surely is a must watch for all. The moon of Kashmiri Pandits surely has blood clots on it but that of Kashmiri Muslims is drenched in blood. We by this don’t mean that their clots are less painful than others, all we want that Bollywood must empathize with Muslims especially Kashmiri Muslims.

Shikara’s release date is also controversial. At a time when Muslims in India are facing a severe existential threat especially after CAA and NRC, should the release date have been postponed?

Also, the turmoil surrounding abrogation of Article 370 in Kashmir should have been enough for the postponement of such a release. But let the filmmaker tell his story. We want to write this to him as his main protagonist in the movie does, expecting no response.

Authors are students of Mass Communication & Journalism at the University of Kashmir, Srinagar.

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