Review: 'The Kashmir Files' offers a harrowing yet essential look into the plight of Kashmiri Pandits

*Disclaimer - I approach it as a film and while I am rational and empathetic talking about it, there is no way that I can write about or fathom the horror of the victims. Read on to know more.

- By "Kunal Kothari"
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'Ralive, Tsalive, Galive' - these three words might not mean much to anyone and everyone out there but it runs a strike of terror through the spine of Kashmiri Pandits from the 1990s who were forced to either leave Kashmir, convert themselves or die. Needless to say - none of these options were acceptable in any circumstances. This viciousness and a lot more is what Vivek Agnihotri's latest film, The Kashmir Files is all about. Having seen the film, here's what I thought of it-

*Disclaimer -I approach it as a film and while I am rational and empathetic talking about it, there is no way that I can write about or fathom the horror of the victims. 

The Plot

The film is centered around the story of Pushker Nath Pandit (Anupam Kher) and his family. The saga is about him being in Kashmir as Pandits and the sheer horror that his family faces to losing almost everyone in his family, including himself. PN Pandit does have some influential help and friendships in the form of IAS Brahma Dutt (Mithun Chakraborty), DGP Hari Narain (Puneet Issar), Journalist Vishnu Ram (Atul Srivastava) and Dr. Mahesh Kumar (Prakash Belawadi) but none of that is helpful enough for him to fight the anarchy.

The Good

Courtesy : YouTube

The idea of back-and-forth storytelling is a smart technique adapted by the director to convey a story of such grimness. On one hand, you are taken to the testing times that the Pandit family along with so many others faced when the attacks were constant and on the other hand, we are brought into the times of years later where the only surviving son of the Pandit family - Krishna (Darshan Kumaar) is gradually learning about everything but also grappling to understand who is right and who is wrong. A break from both forms of storytelling is needed and provided well.

Balancing the characters - Director Vivek Agnihotri adopts a fine characterization technique of making sure that in a subject like this which needs your constant attention and understanding - he carves a character who is almost like one of us. As we catapult through two sides of the story, we have the character of Krishna who is just like us. Inspite of being a part of every harrowing incident, he knows nothing because he was a little boy when everything happened. It is expertly shown how Krishna is easily brainwashed by Farooq Ahmed Dar aka Bitta Karate (Chinmay Mandelkar) while he has his grandfather's friends are trying to explain their side. It is exactly what you feel as a viewer and in something so information-dense, you needed a character like that in the midst of things.

The authenticity has not been compromised here. I have always found it fascinating how beautiful locales like that in Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh or East India manage to act as a background for dark storytelling. Here as well, while you do like the background of Kashmir, there is a sense of claustrophobia as you witness the plight of Kashmiri Pandits on a daily basis. Apart from that, the Kashmiri mouthed by multiple characters in the film is as spot-on as it can get. While you expect the local talent to perform brilliantly and they do, actors like Anupam Kher and Chinmay Mandelkar do a brilliant job of mouthing Kashmiri.

The Not-So-Good

The film loses its way towards the climax. The end is supposed to leave you on a disturbing note and it indeed does but it ends up being too abrupt. There is an organic story progression till the story reaches a particular point of Krishna coming to his own and realising things but post that, it seems disjointed when it goes back into the flashback.

Showing absolute reality can act as a double-edged sword. The grim reality gets overly graphic on multiple instances and while one can argue that it was actually more real and harrowing than shown in the film (and it is true); for a rational viewer to fathom such a large extent of graphic violence and the situations attached to it can definitely be overwhelming. There are some sequences where it seems overly indulgent and even unnecessary at times.

The Performances

A veteran like Anupam Kher has multiple fine acts to his name throughout his illustrious career but I can safely say, The Kashmir Files is amongst his finest. The actor is at his brilliant best showcasing vulnerability, fear, and the suffocation of being in that situation. As his character goes through multiple timelines, each one of them is expertly portrayed by him and he deserves a round of applause. 

In the large ensemble cast otherwise, Darshan Kumaar is brilliant as well where he ends up delivering a long monologue, Pallavi Joshi as Professor Radhika is played deliciously sinister; and the likes of Mithun Chakraborty, Atul Srivastava, Puneet Issar and Prakash Belawadi all do a fine job. Another brilliant standout though is actor Chinmay Mandelkar as Bitta Karate. It is amazing to think he is a Maharashtrian in real life because the way in which he performs Bitta is all kinds of fantastic.

The Verdict

The Kashmir Files is an unfiltered, important and harrowing tale of a set of people who never had their voices heard in any form - academic or otherwise. The film does get immensely disturbing at times and the length might bother a few as well but it qualifies for worthy viewing.

Rating - ***1/2 (3.5/5)