Saturday, Oct 08, 2022

The Kashmir Files: Mounting Debate Over 'One Kind Of Narrative' Amid Sops From BJP-ruled Govts

Amidst the show of solidarity by BJP leaders and moviegoers for The Kashmir Files, a section of politicians and netizens are urging citizens to take an educated stance that is balanced and non-communal

Sand sculpture on movie The Kashmir Files PTI Photo

On Tuesday, Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma went to watch Vivek Agnihotri’s film The Kashmir Files at a theatre with his cabinet colleagues. Thereafter, he announced a half-day special leave for all government employees wanting to watch this film. The leave would be granted after they inform their superior and submit the movie tickets in office the next day.

Assam is not the only state to show its solidarity for the movie. Other BJP-ruled states are also following the suit. Madhya Pradesh Home Minister Narottam Mishra announced special leave for policemen who want to watch the movie. The state Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan watched the film on Wednesday along with other legislators and his cabinet colleagues. Haryana Chief Minister, Manohar Lal Khattar watched the movie on Sunday. While announcing exemption of entertainment tax for the movie, CM Chouhan tweeted: “Movie #TheKashmirFiles is a heart-wrenching narration of the pain, suffering, struggle, and trauma faced by Kashmiri Hindus in the 90s. This needs to be watched by maximum people hence we have decided to make it a tax-free in the state of Madhya Pradesh.” State governments that have waived off the state tax include Karnataka, Assam, Madhya Pradesh, Goa, Uttarakhand, Haryana, Tripura, and Uttar Pradesh. Prior to The Kashmir Files, Bollywood films Padman, Toilet:EK Prem Katha, Tanhaji, Dangal and Neerja had received tax exemption. But the Anupam Kher-Mithun Chakraborty starrer has received phenomenal response in political circles. 

The Kashmir Files, a small budget film of Rs 20 crore based on the 1990 exodus of Kashmiri Pandits in the Kashmir insurgency, had a delayed release due to the pandemic. However, within three days of its release on March 11, its box office collection crossed the 50-crore mark. On Holi, it recorded the highest single-day total of Rs 19.15 crore, crossing the 100-crore mark, and is veering towards the 150-crore mark.

Earlier, PM Modi praised the movie for bringing forth “the truth that has been suppressed for a long time.” He also attacked those who “raise flag of freedom of expression” but “run campaigns to discredit” without acknowledging facts. The film’s director Vivek Agnihotri, via the movie and his statements on social media, has shown he aligns with the ideology of the ruling party. No opposition leader therefore showed willingness to watch this film. Thus, Chhattisgarh CM Bhupesh Baghel’s announcement that he was going to watch The Kashmir Files came as a surprise. Baghel was the first among Congress stalwarts to publicly show willingness to watch this movie. After watching it, he pointed towards administrative failure and blamed BJP for that, “The film shows that the government run with the help of the BJP did nothing to stop the exodus of Kashmiri Pandits, rather they were asked to leave. The Army wasn’t sent,” Baghel told the media. 

However, after several videos of communal slogans being raised in movie theatres screening The Kashmir Files went viral, the film also faced several allegations of distorting facts to support “one kind of narrative” and promoting “enmity” towards Muslims. While BJP leaders have openly declared that the movie “empathetically presents the reality of Kashmiri Pandits, Congress leaders have claimed that the incumbent party failed to provide justice for Kashmiri Pandits, and “merely used them for politics.” Congress Communications in-charge Randeep Singh Surjewala, in response to PM Modi’s tweet, tweeted, “India is not a film but a reality”, he asked since BJP is in power, “when Kashmiri Pandits will be rehabilitated?” Badruddin Ajmal, chief of the All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF), demanded a ban on the film fearing “communal tensions” and incidents like the ghastly Nellie massacre of 1983 in central Assam.  

With the movie, an old debate has resurfaced over the role of the then VP Singh government backed by BJP in the exodus of Kashmiri Pandits. Kashmiri Muslims feel that the then Governor of Jammu & Kashmir, Jagmohan, had encouraged Kashmiri Pandits to leave. But Kashmiri Pandits disagree with this logic, saying the Muslims with whom they had been living amicably, had made the situation very hostile for them to stay back. Advocate and social activist Vineet Jindal has written to President Ram Nath Kovind has sought direction to reopen all cases and constitution of a Special Investigative Team (SIT) to probe cases related to the "massacre" of Kashmiri Pandits.

However, several Kashmiri Pandits, while praising the makers for mainstreaming the horrors of their past, they cautioned the public against falling prey to an “anti-Muslim” propaganda. Comedian Samay Raina tweeted on March 13: “I just watched #TheKashmirFiles last night and I was in tears. As a Kashmiri Pandit kid who grew up safely in a different city like many of my fellow KP 90s kids, the movie really shows how brutal the genocide really was and the horrors our parents and families faced… and I just hope this movie doesn't polarise people further or fill them with hate towards other communities.” Journalist Sagrika Kissu tweeted: “I cried while watching the movie and I bow down to Anupam Kher for this excellent acting and for translating the pain of KPs into acting almost correctly… Not every Muslim is a terrorist/militant or a terrorist sympathiser. We should be very sensitive when we paint all of them in one colour. This movie sets in a very bitter emotion for Kashmiri Muslims as a whole.”