Set in Valley, Shot Elsewhere: Kashmir in Web Series

As over-the-top or OTT platform has emerged as a new source of entertainment for viewers around the world, Kashmir historically used by majority of Indian filmmakers to picture the so-called over-enthusiastic narrative stays the same stereotyping subject.

By Mrinal Pathak

KAAFIR, an original Zee5 series, starring Dia Mirza and Mohit Raina as lead actors, makes an attempt to depict political conflict that has engulfed Kashmir for a long time.

Directed by Sonam Nair, the screenplay of the series is created by Bhavani Iyer, the scriptwriter of critically acclaimed Raazi.

Based on a true story, Kaafir is about an innocent Pakistani girl, Kainaaz Akhtar played by Dia Mirza who faces a jail term after the Border Security Forces (BSF) mistakenly take her as a militant.

The series is somehow successful in breaking the chain of films and series depicting a pseudo nationalist perspective on Kashmir.

Mohit Raina, who plays the role of Vedant Rathod has come out with a gripping performance to bring out a balanced perception in the growing world of intolerance.

Dishita Jain, who plays Kainaaz’s daughter, Seher, has mixed her innocence with the situation to establish a flawless balance.

Talking of acting, Dia Mirza is definitely the highlight of the series, the other characters have also adapted well to the required role plays.

At many points, even Mirza struggles to bring out the perfect Kashmiri accent to give a true essence of Kashmir to the viewers. Though the series aims to break the stereotypes attached to the place, it bolsters some at many points that come out as a contrast to its very concept.

One of the major drawbacks of the series is that it is set in Kashmir but shot almost entirely in Himachal Pradesh.

More like Raazi, Kaafir tries to capture the reality of Kashmir with a different perception. The web series is a consummate blend of a heartwarming love story and a conflict-ridden society.

Notably, there’s an exponential growth of Web Series in India. The available OTT platforms are not just limited to big giants like Amazon Prime and Netflix, there’re a good number of indigenously built sites such as Zee5 and Alt Balaji providing a plethora of web series to their viewers.

The growth witnessed in this sector is not only in terms of volume but also in scale.

Unlike Kaafir, Family Man, directed by Raj and DK, again sets a tone for over-enthusiastically patriotic narrative on Kashmir. The series is currently streaming on Amazon Prime.

Just like other Indian films set in Kashmir, the series is predictable at most of the junctures. Although the makers of the series claim to break the already set political stigmas attached to the valley, yet, instead of choosing an old straight path, the series takes a bend to re-establish the older stereotypes.

Kashmir is labelled as a ‘hotbed’ for all anti-national activities. The series very cleverly labels Kashmiris as ‘brain-washed’ kids who succumb to the prevailing situation in the valley. The series blatantly links Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), which has hardly any presence in J&K, to the radicalisation of youth.

Instead of breaking older stereotypes, many new ones surface in the series that again show already suffering Kashmiris in a grim light.

While Manoj Vajpayee is excellent, Gul Panag, making a comeback after a long time, is equally complementing Vajpayee’s role diligently, minus her fake Kashmiri accent.

Many critics are calling Family Man a resemblance of Bard of Blood, but the uncanny resemblance is a true depiction of the depths of Indian filmmakers’ thought processes.

Though Family Man is quite engaging, the series is highly predictable, even for a child who watches Indian spy films and series regularly.

Talking of realistic account, Haq Se, an Alt Balaji original series, directed by Ken Ghosh is nowhere close to the reality of Kashmir. Though the plot is set in the valley, the series is shot in Manali.

Instead of debunking already prevailing myths about Kashmir, the series has given birth to many new ones.

From accent used to the lifestyle shown, the setup resembles more of North Indian or Pakistani culture and tehzeeb and not Kashmiri.

The series does not set any narrative but comes up with its own precedent that is completely detached from the harsh reality of Kashmir.

In the entire series, Kashmir is used as a ‘scenic’ place to depict parallel love stories and family drama.

The series has attempted to highlight the tangled socio-political conflict of Kashmir but has failed miserably in doing so. Other than Rajeev Khandelwal, none of the other characters has adapted to the role of native Kashmiris.

The tenor of narrative varies from series to series. While in series like Kaafir, the storyline is humane in nature, whereas, in Family Man, it is again over-enthusiastically patriotic and hurls a ‘patriotic’ stone at the dignity of a particular region.

Kashmir’s celluloid distortion, sadly, remains unending.

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