Shikara – Kashmir finds a new narrative in Bollywood

New Delhi, Jan 26, 2020-

In a couple of weeks, filmmaker Vidhu Vinod Chopra’s “Shikara” will bring to the big screen the story of exodus of Kashmiri Pandits from the Kashmir Valley.

This aspect of Kashmirs history has never normally received Bollywoods attention, which has so far explored Kashmir only as a gorgeous backdrop for filming songs or, since around early nineties, as script material to make films about Islamic terror and cross-border violence.

While beauteous locations and terrorism as a plot continue to inspire Bollywood, a few filmmakers are now casting an unflinching gaze at the subject of the Kashmiri Hindu identity and the community’s plight. In all these years, there was just one film that squarely touched upon the subject — Ashoke Pandit’s 2004 release “Sheen”.

Apart from Chopra’s film, Vivek Agnihotri will take forward the narrative with his next “The Kashmir Files”, based on the genocide of Kashmiri Hindus. The film is scheduled to hit screens on August 15, 2020.

The newfound interest in the Kashmiri Hindu also saw Madhu Mantena announcing a film on Kota Rani, the last Hindu queen of Kashmir who ruled until 1339.

“Kashmir has always been used to showcase its beauty. It has always been used as an integral part of the narrative of Indian cinema. The beauty and landscape have been used to enhance beautification of the Valley,” trade expert Girish Johar told, adding that “now filmmakers are looking for relevant stories, which are unheard and share it with the audience”.

Chopra’s “Shikara: The Untold Story Of Kashmiri Pandits” is being touted as a “story of resilience in the face of insurmountable odds”, and is being described as the story of a love that remains “unextinguished through 30 years of exile. A timeless love story in the worst of times”.

“Shikara” addresses the issue of ethnic cleansing and riots that took place in 1989 and 1990 in Kashmir, which had a direct and lasting impact on the lives of Kashmiri Pandits. The film chronicles the exodus of Kashmiri Pandits from Kashmir on the night of January 19, 1990, through the story of Shiv Kumar Dhar (essayed by Aadil Khan) and Shanti Dhar (essayed by Sadia). It also shows the layers of blooming romance in the conflict-ridden state of Kashmir.

“It has been 30 years and nothing has been done yet. Koi shor nahi macha (There was no clamour about this),” Chopra said recently at an event, adding: “My hope is that ab toh shor macha do.”

“I want people to go online and just write ‘Sorry to all the Kashmiri Pandits’ as we didn’t do anything. Sorry to all of you who continue to live in refugee camps even after 30 years of the exodus. This is my only hope. We are still waiting to hear ewe are sorry, Kashmiri Pandits’. The only thing to hate is hate. I hope this message goes out all around the country,” added Vidhu, who worked on the film for 11 years.

Rahul Pandita, author of the book, “Our Moon Has Blood Clots: The Exodus Of Kashmiri Pandits”, has turned Bollywood screenwriter for the film. At an event, Pandita said: “Justice ki toh baat jaane dijiye (forget justice), at the very least we need an acknowledgement”.

The love affair between Bollywood and Kashmir is long-standing — from being a mirror to the winter wonderland with snow-swept peaks and slopes to showing a glimpse of the land with fantastical touch with sparkling waterfalls, green meadows and landscape full of flowers. No one can forget Shammi Kapoor and Sharmila Tagore’s “Kashmir Ki Kali” or Saira Banu’s song “Kashmir ki kali hoon main”. In fact, late Shammi Kapoor had such an admiration for the Valley that it is believed that going to Kashmir to capture the beauty of the state in at least one song became an important deal-breaker for producers of his films.

The love faded with stories getting consumed by the tension in the Valley.

The second phase of Bollywood interest in Kashmir was all about chaos, clashes and conflicts — these themes were woven together to narrate tales from Kashmir in Bollywood. It started with border conflict appearing in films of the early nineties like Mani Ratnam’s “Roja” and Raj Kapoor’s “Henna”. Then there was Vidhu Vinod Chopra’s war drama “Mission Kashmir” and Shoojit Sircar’s simple “Yahaan” reflecting the cracks of the state. The socio-political complexity also formed the crux of Vishal Bhardwaj’s “Haider” and Sajid Ali’s “Laila Majnu”.

There were heart-warming tales, sinister stories, and love notes from troubled times.

During this phase, filmmakers used the border conflict and increased presence of the Army to narrate out and out commercial stories high on emotions of patriotism, nationalism and brotherhood. Salman Khan’s “Bajrangi Bhaijaan”, Shah Rukh Khan’s “Jab Tak Hai Jaan” and Vicky Kaushal’s “Uri: The Surgical Strike” have been shining examples lately.

There’s also been arthouse and crossover interest. Ashvin Kumar’s “No Fathers in Kashmir” tells the story of a British-Kashmiri teenager in search of her father. LA-based Kashmiri filmmaker Danish Renzu’s “Half Widow” revolves around a woman from Srinagar in Kashmir, who tries to find her husband who has allegedly been abducted by Indian armed forces. Aijaz Khan’s “Hamid”, set against the backdrop of terror in Kashmir, explores an unlikely bond between an eight-year-old Kashmiri Muslim boy and a hardliner Hindu CRPF trooper from the heartland who is posted in the Valley.

Trade expert Rajesh Thadani feels the end of Article 370 has marked new beginnings for stories coming out of Kashmir.

“After Article 370, people will shoot there more often and show these films. It has become easier to shoot at new locales of Kashmir instead of going to foreign locales,” Thadani said.

However, “Hamid” director Aijaz feels it’s not that easy.

“I haven’t been able to go to Kashmir since the scrapping of Article 370. But my friends tell me that things are not normal in the Valley. Not many people get to know the truth, but things are still bad. I hope it becomes better,” Aijaz said, adding: “There are many stories waiting to be told from Kashmir.”

Bollywood’s affair with Kashmir has a new screenplay. Will it work to highlight the Kashmiri Hindu, whose plight has been forgotten by history of his own motherland?  (Agency)

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