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The Kashmir Files is the surgical strike on Bollywood

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Sunil Mishra
Sunil Mishra
Sunil is author of 3 books.

Many of us may be wondering why a movie that was written off by most film critiques (Indian Express gave it a rating of 1.5/5.0) is slowly becoming one of the most watched movie of the year. Or how an Indian audience that is so used to ‘fantasy escape world of cinema’ is flocking in to watch this ‘documentary type movie’. The film has no songs, no one is dancing around, no hero-kills-villain type fight scenes – nothing that people can relate to a Bollywood movie. In the past such movies were called ‘art movie’ – which essentially meant that no one would watch them. Kashmir Files is a runaway commercial success on the contrary.

Vivek Agnihotri calls himself a Bollywood rebel, so it is not surprising that he has made an Anti-Bollywood movie. The notable part is that it is turning out to be a blockbuster. It questions the long held belief that only certain types of ideology can prosper in Bollywood. Though Bollywood professes to promote creative artistic freedom, it has always been lopsided in propagating certain narratives. If you watch Bollywood movies (more so of 70-80s), you notice that it has created stereotypes of communities that smells of an agenda driven approach. All those who have been part of this industry willingly or unwillingly succumb to that ideology. The left-leaning condescending Bollywood had co-opted everyone in an ‘elite club’. If you are not convinced, you need to follow @GemsOfBollywood on twitter.

Narrative Control is not just limited to Bollywood

When India got Independence it had an option to choose a narrative that was factual, away from the propaganda of the colonizers. However people entrusted with writing the Indian history believed that too much of bare truth could be dangerous for the harmony of the newly created country. They instead took an approach of brushing away the uncomfortable truths and presented it as ‘things should have happened’ rather than ‘the way it happened’. To sustain this thinking the historians required to spin narratives that looked nice even though they were untrue. The Marxist historians hardly cared for the truth. The result was an education system that presents a very distorted view of Indian history that disparages everything that can lead to native pride. If you read NCERT books on Indian history you will only remember Mughal period and British Empire – for a civilization that is at least 4000 year old. End result – the narrative has spread to all the fields like films, art, writing, sports, academia, books, awards etc. and together they create a powerful ideological ecosystem.

Kashmir Files is the uncomfortable story that Indian intelligentsia would want to bury like many other uncomfortable truths because it runs counter to their narrative. It is not surprising that no mainstream media covered this story during the incident, no authentic movies were made , no court took up those cases and no school book discusses them in detail. But anyone who has read alternative narratives of India has got a sense that all that is being fed to us in the mainstream could be suspect. That’s why there is an eagerness to look at an alternative perspective as a challenge to the prevailing narratives. Kashmir Files is the counter narrative that has touched the chord of people.

A generation of ‘cultural orphans’

‘India must break with much of her past and not allow it to dominate the present,’ Nehru wrote in his book The Discovery of India. ‘Our lives are encumbered with the dead wood of the past; all that is dead and has served its purpose must go.’ As India’s first PM, Nehru had some disdain for Indian culture, specifically for the Hindu civilization. He was educated in an colonial era. Though his love for the country could not be in doubt, he was part of the English elite who Macaulay described as – a class of persons, Indian in blood and color, but English in taste, in opinions, in morals, and in intellect. And Nehru was not alone, the colonial education had created a small but powerful elite who continued to perpetuate the colonizer’s narrative about the inferior past. What else can explain that recently made movie ‘Udham Singh’ could not be sent for Oscars because the reviewers thought it showed hatred towards British.

The result of the colonial sanitization was that any reference to India’s cultural past was ridiculed. Eventually it created a generation of cultural orphans that only has to look up to the west for anything of value. This was precisely the aim of English education that Macaulay envisaged. Native language is a living culture. Depriving the natives from their mother tounges can only produce a cultural apathy and a class of imitators. Yeats once said “Tagore does not know English, no Indian knows English’ – he was just stating that Indians can only be a caricature of their British counterparts when they adopt English. However the lure of English and native cultural apathy continues till today. Nothing is more evident than the Bollywood stars who make their livelihood from Hindi movies but give all interviews invariably in English.

Taking the ecosystem head on

PM Modi’s rise in Indian politics was the counter narrative that challenged the status quo. When he speaks in Hindi in UN, he is making a statement that we are moving away from being in the race of best imitators. He does not hesitate to assert his Indian identity, does not try to be politically correct and there is some honesty that people identify him with. He promotes Yoga, respects cultural and religious heritage of distant past even at the cost of being ridiculed. He is an ideological rebel in that sense.

Vivek Agnihotri is trying something similar. Through his past work like the book ‘Urban Naxal’ and movie ‘Tashkent Files’ he has tried to take the narrative head on. He has been partly successful, as evident from The Kashmir Files. However, his job is more difficult because while PM Modi could claim victory by winning election, Vivek will have to fight the invisible ecosystem of intelligentsia who are no less powerful.

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Sunil Mishra
Sunil Mishra
Sunil is author of 3 books.
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