Shikara on Amazon Prime also fails to tell the ‘true’ story of Kashmiri pundits
Vidhu Vinod Chopra’s ‘Shikara’ misses the chance to tell the true story of the displaced Kashmiri Pandits. If ‘The Kashmir Files’ is about hate, ‘Shikara’ doesn’t do the Kashmiri Pandit problem justice as it ignores reality to focus on a tasteless love story
The agony and anguish that the displaced Kashmiri Pandits had to endure 30 years ago has probably sunk into the consciousness of every Indian today. (Thanks to the power of Bollywood). Abruptly uprooted from their established lives in Kashmir, thousands (numbers range from 60,000 [official figures] to 5 lakh), were forced to flee their homes in Kashmir.
Transferred to makeshift refugee camps, they waited in vain for the government and the judiciary to give them justice. In October 2021, Kashmiri Pandits finally achieved a form of ‘divine justice’ in at least one case, when an arrested Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) terrorist, Zia Mustafa, was killed in a militant shooting at Poonch. It was he who horrifically shot 24 Kashmiri pandits, including 11 women and two children, in the Nadimarg village of Shopian on March 23, 2003.
This massacre is shown in detail as the climactic scene of Vivek Agnihotri Kashmir records, leaving the theater audience confused and shaken. It also throws in a chilling scene of a Kashmiri Pandit woman being cut while alive in half with a chainsaw. An atrocity that would have been committed against a librarian, Girija Tickoo, after being gang-raped by five activists.
However, the director takes the Nadimarg massacre and other tragic events that forced Kashmiri Pandits to flee their homes in 1990 and turns them into a tale of hate, interspersed with key killings in the valley in an attempt to stir up more bitterness.
Besides accusing the media of selling out, intellectuals (especially JNU professors) of manipulating innocent students to side with terrorists in Kashmir, and Farooq Abdullah of colluding with terrorists and to sweep the plight of Kashmiri Pandits under the rug, it does not spare common Kashmir also. Agnihotri, who had previously made Files from Tashkent on the mystery surrounding the death of former Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri and a titillating film titled story of hatetwists the facts and offers a hodgepodge narrative to mainly convey that the pundits were victims of a holocaust and that the Kashmiris deserved the revocation of Article 370.
In the film, loudspeakers in mosques broadcasting messages asking pundits to “convert, leave or die” (and leave Hindu women behind) play repeatedly, and it’s full of faintly engraved characters. Mithun Chakraborty, who plays an ineffectual IAS officer, looks alternately sullen and angry, eerily delivering lines such as “this is genocide, not an exodus”!
Even though her son has just been brutally killed by a terrorist and her daughter-in-law is forced to eat rice soaked in her husband’s blood, Anupam Kher reels statistics on the phone to his friend Mithun, on the number of pandits of Kashmir being expelled from their homes. The dialogues are theatrical and wacky. The Kashmiri pundits certainly deserve a better interpretation of their history, a more nuanced and compelling management based on all the complex factors at play in the troubled region of Kashmir.
Shikara – yet another Kashmiri Pandit film
This is not the first film to be made about Kashmir Pandits. Yet another film on “the untold story of the Kashmiri Pandits” – Vidhu Vidhu Chopra’s shikara (2020) – is currently streaming on Amazon Prime Video. But like The Kashmir Files, this film, which failed at the box office, also does not do justice to the question of the Kashmiri Pandit and ignores reality to focus on a tasteless love story. Additionally, Chopra’s intrinsic message of forgiving what happened and moving on was not well received by people when it hit theaters. In fact, an upset Kashmiri Pandit ticked him off at a screening for ‘marketing’ their pain.
Read also : ‘The Kashmir Files’ continues stable, crosses ₹100 crore mark
However, it is based on the exodus of Kashmiri Pandits from Kashmirshikara largely scratches the surface of politics in the region. There is a scene in which posters are stuck on trees asking Indians to leave Kashmir – ‘India chale jao’. And, in one of the scenes, there is a speech by Benazir Bhutto brandishing slogans of aazaadi in support of Kashmir militants broadcast on a black and white television in the background. The politics are incidental, the love story is what matters most to Chopra, who gave us memorable films like Parinda (1989)Parineeta (2005) and Khamosh (1986) and produced films like 3 idiots (2009) and Munnabhai MBBS (2003).
Kashmiri pundits Shiv Kumar and Shanti Dhar (played by newcomers Aadil Khan and Sadia) fall in love and marry. This “perfect” couple is building a beautiful house together called Shikara and there is nothing to disturb this paradise, as they exchange tender sweet words and return to their roghan ghosh.
At the end of 1989, when the father of Shiv’s best friend, Lateef, was killed during a clash between the Indian army and militants, the happy life of the Dhars changed. A few weeks later, Islamist militants cry out for the blood of Kashmiri Hindus and Shiv and Shanti are forced to abandon their home and flee to Jammu as refugees. And there they wait for the next 30 years in the hope of one day returning to Shikara. Their life unfolds in the refugee camp, with Shiv teaching refugee children and writing letters to the US President.
Somehow the filmmaker’s creative ploy to get the protagonist to write letters to the US President (like SRK goes looking for the US President in My name is khan) since he believes America is responsible for arming militants and is the culprit behind the Valley’s problems, it just doesn’t work. Chopra clearly wanted to blame it on an “outsider” to avoid any trouble from the ruling party, which ignored the film anyway.
There are some strong moments in the film. VSMatographer Rangarajan Ramabadran’s stunning panoramic night shots of a long train of cars, trucks and buses full of people and their paltry belongings meandering slowly down the hilly roads leading to Jammu are haunting. The mood of pain of this displaced community heightened by the musical score is palpable.
just like The Kashmir Files, shikara nor does it address alleged human rights abuses by military or security personnel, nor the collateral damage suffered by other communities in Kashmir who have also suffered as a result of the militancy. Nor does he talk about the machinations of political parties of all persuasions that have also failed Kashmir. What you get here is a 1990 love story set in scenic Kashmir.
There is, however, a poignant scene when the army-escorted refugee couple return to Kashmir for a brief visit. Driving to Srinagar, an emotional Shiv recites a poem written by Irshad Kamil, which expresses his longing and love for his hometown. Few lines look like this:
Ae wadi shehzadi bolo kaisi ho?
Kya ab bhi wahan seher shikara karte hai?
Chaar chinar pe waqt guzara karte hain
Kya ab bhi woh jheel barf ho jaati hai?
Jispe bachche khel khilara karte hai
Ae wadi shehzadi bolo kaisi ho?…
(Oh queen of the valley, tell me how are you?
Are the shikaras still prowling the lake?
Do you spend time in Char Chinar?
Is Dal Lake still freezing,
in which the children play?
Oh queen of the valley, tell me how are you?
Unlike Agnihotri, Chopra has a cinematic sense that comes through in the film and he’s not poorly done as Kashmir Records. Corn Chikhara just sprints the couple away from reality and focuses on their story of survival and love. There have been acclaimed works on the score like that of Govind Nihalani tamas (which angered the BJP); by David Attenborough Gandhi; By Deepa Mehta Earth and the classic Garm Hawaii, so why shouldn’t there be a better film capturing the plight of Kashmiri pundits? However, Chopra seems to have her heart in the right place wanting to tell the story of the Kashmiri Pandits for the sake of her mother Shanthi Devi, who had to flee Kashmir in 1989 and “could never return”.
Stung by criticism that he was trying to commercialize the Hindu problem of Kashmir, he wrote a letter to young Indians on his Facebook page: “The film (shikara) is my truth. This is the truth from my mother. This is the truth from my co-author Rahul Pandita. This is the truth of a community that, despite such trauma, did not pick up a gun or spread hatred. (A point that’s water for another movie)
According to the director, shikara is an attempt to do the same, to speak of unimaginable pain without sowing the seeds of violence and animosity. And, to start a conversation that will hopefully bring Kashmiri pundits back to Kashmir, Chopra said, adding that he saw his house destroyed in hatred. “Don’t let it consume you. I want you to have a future different from my past,” he concluded. His sincerity cannot be ignored and it is better to portray love than unbridled hate, but he missed the opportunity to tell the real ‘true’ story of the displaced Kashmiri pundits.