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The Kashmir Files: The dawn of a new age in Indian cinema

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Paresh Ram Pandit
Paresh Ram Pandit
Photographer, Writer, Learner ...

The Kashmir Files (TKF) is a movie that has brought upon an entirely new dimension in Indian—and dare one say, World—Cinema. While some see it as a documentary or historical painting in running frames, those opposed to the dissemination of the core content of this movie run helter-skelter to label it propaganda. It is interesting to find that the latter are actually more helpful in aiding us “compartmentalise” this cinematic endeavour. At that, to merely call it anti-propaganda would also be unjust. It in fact is something akin to an emergent de-propaganda-isaiton genre!

A Documentary

TKF is certainly an objective presentation—and not mere representation, on account of the masterfulness of its production—of the Kashmiri Pandits’ (KP’s) account and reality. Thus, it certainly is a Documentary in its own right, and the audiences are indeed not terribly mistaken in accepting it so.

It passes all the tests of incorporating the hallmarks of documentary filmmaking, with flying colours. For one, it has a core real story that needs telling; this story has an overarching social message and an account of history as well; this historical account stands in the truth; the truth has been uncovered vide rigorous and thorough research, of which only the most rigorous have been portrayed; an excellent team of artists [both on and off the silver screen] have worked hard to realise an unabated, unbiased and un-dramatised portrayal of real events, bringing not just its story, but atmosphere to light; and it has had not only the cinematic but also the release treatment to match, by default though not by design.

A Commercially Successful Film

The film might not have been made with the primary objective, or rather expectation, of any monumental commercial success. And if one believes the contrary, who am I to say or know of anything. Perhaps it was. However, there is no denying the fact that despite all odds, the film has left an impressive commercial mark on the opening quarter of 2022, in the Indian Film Industry.

TKF rose to become the second-highest opening weekend grosser film of the year, with collections of over ₹ 27.2 Crores. This was only behind the massive SLB production of ‘Gangubai Kathiawadi’ which grossed ₹ 39.1 Crores on its opening weekend, with a cast that would be considered ‘start-powered’ by Bollywood’s promotion agencies; and was much ahead of ‘Amitabh Bachchan’-starrer ‘Jhund’ which stood at ₹ 5.5 Crores on its opening weekend.

Furthermore, briefly, the film also made history on IMDB by touching the score of a perfect 10/10 in audience ratings, with over 50,000 votes at the time—a first ever for an Indian film.

An Art Film

Last but not the least, there is an undeniable Art Film aspect to this production which also coming into the limelight. The Director and his Cast of masterful Actors have drenched themselves into their characters.

Art House Films are typically characterised by their appeal to a specific niche audience. This, paired with their commercial failure separates from the fate of cult films which normally are made with a mass consumption objective, but rather see adoption after a wave of commercial rejection. TKF, technically, doesn´t fit into either pigeon-holes. However, in an almost magical fateful manner, it is an outlier which borrows the strengths of both, an marries them off with commercial success.

At that, a film like TKF always runs the risk of making or breaking at break-even, given its bold choice of subject matter. In this sense, the best the best outcome that a filmmaker can expect of such a production is to achieve enough commercial success, and then accrue enough eventual following. However, TKF hopped-onto audience-driven success right from day zero, and became an instant mass-cult film of sorts as the viewership (and box office) numbers grew exponentially.

The pandemic forced this film to be released outside the country much before it was released in India. This was an unplanned leaf from the Art Film world, akin to it going to the Festivals and gather some steam there, before a grand theatrical release. TKF not only contrasts with Commercial Cinema, but also with its entire ecosystem, in the Indian context.

The performances are solid, and often poetic. Despite having limited dialogues, the character of Sharda Pandit, played by Bhasha Sumbli emotes the entire range of emotions of the plight, courage, resolve, compromises, faith, strength, and sheer helplessness of the KP Women in that terrible time—often softly, in a loud silence, majorly through body language. She is an understated constant in the film, binding all the key characters together.

Similarly, returning after a long hiatus, Pallavi Joshi plays the role of Radhika Menon with utmost professional craftsmanship. She portrays the conviction of the University Professor and her matter-of-fact-ly attitude over her disconnected understanding of Kashmir, effortlessly. If Pallavi’s scenes [with the protagonist Krishna] are cut out, they could very well be considered as separate from the film—in that, they create a world of their own, taking you into the world of that particular character, and her University-and-Political life. Pallavi keeps you standing in front of the character, yet awards you the view from within it.

Darshan Kumaar, who plays the protagonist Krishna Pandit has played a triple character in the entirety of the film: starting from being clueless, to being misinformed, to standing up for the truth. Through out, he is convincing, and transitions smoothly from one to another, along the timeline. What is important to note, technically, is that he is more or less in the same attire and look through this—thus, the audience is seeing the same character, visually speaking; but they are not disturbed by his back and forth and change. And in these three states, he basically represents the entire diaspora of the Indian youth, without overburdening us with emphasis on either one of them. This is no easy feat.

Last but not the least, the senior legends of Indian cinema, Anupam Kher, Mithun Chakraborty, Atul Srivastava, Puneet Issar, Mrinal Kulkarni, and Prakash Belawadi play their characters exceptionally as well. These four friends, the four pillars of our democracy, failed the KP Pushkar Nath Pandit (played by Anupam Kher), for one reason or another, to one extent or another.

While Anupam ji mesmerises us by gracefully overlaying his top-notch acting skills with nuances of acting using multiple Shringaras—body movements, costume, makeup, hair, accessories, et al—; Mithun Da never drops the self-disappointment of Brahma Dutt, IAS for being helpless in the face of his circumstances, despite his ‘power’ and ‘vanity’. But this too, true to the nature of the character, is only shown in strict undertones; overtly, he is a man in control in his world.

TKF is a layered film, which can give it’s audiences the experience that the seek from it. And if they wish, they can have it all. Vivek Ranjan Agnihotri’s masterpiece is a Ghazal—it is a multidimensional poem, in which, each verse is a complete meaningful poem in and of itself, as they are together.

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Paresh Ram Pandit
Paresh Ram Pandit
Photographer, Writer, Learner ...
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