Readers Write In #453: I whole-heartedly welcome the success of ‘The Kashmir files’, and let me tell you why.

Posted on March 26, 2022

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By Alex John

Let me tell you this first, I haven’t seen ‘The Kashmir files’ yet. It is playing in the city I live, but I couldn’t drag my lazy a** to watch it yet. Well, I thought I ought to write something about it at least, as the campaign against the film is getting intense as days pass by. I know, I am an unknown amateur who daydreams of starting a revolution someday, but today I only intend to let a handful of readers know what I think about this film drawing heavy attention from all over the country. Coming to the point, I understand our rights to rave and rant about films, but the vilifying voices against this film is taking an interesting direction. Some say this film should be banned in the country, some others say Vivek Agnihotri should hand-out all the profit made by the film to the poor (as in he has committed a grave sin, and the profit from it should go to poor boxes than his own pocket). Well, speak about unreasonable chastising. I not only disagree to this, but also want the film to be more visible and successful. Let me make some points on why I do so.

Modern Hays codes (unwritten)

It astounds me how long It took for a film to be made on this subject. I ‘m not counting Shikara as it is essentially a love story with the Kashmir agitation as its backdrop (I haven’t seen that film either, but I am going by what I have read about it in trustworthy media, online and offline). I often wonder about this phenomenon. I think this became more visible when the 1968 zombie classic ‘ The Night of the living dead’ came out. The movie has a girl who is so terrified that she literally freezes at the face of the terror, which could be an everyday sight in the middle of such a disaster. But the liberals fumed. How dare they show a terrified girl? How could they portray a weak woman in their movie when there are none in the real world? It is interesting to think 1968 was the year Hollywood scrapped the Hays code, but I think it kind of stuck around, hiding under the cloak of progressiveness. I think of 1980s when Malayalam cinema managed to break the taboos of sexuality in Indian cinema and the audience outside Kerala started to brand it as the center of ‘sex films’ (which it became in the early 2000s, ironically). My point is, are we really walking back to the prohibitions of the past as we say we progress? Are our hands tied so tight we had to wait for 30 years to make a film on such an important and tragic incident of our past? How ideal is it for us to have to wait for the ‘right political atmosphere’ to make this happen? I mean, as controversial, colossal and tragic it was, movies about World War 2 began coming out even before that ghastly ordeal came to an end (of which, Alfred Hitchcock’s movies stand out, looking back from now). We don’t really have the right to claim to be living in a progressive era if we turn our backs to the victims and their stories that need to be told out loud.

The world war 2 example of being selective about your own plight, even if it isn’t strictly moral.

Speaking about World War 2 and victims might as well lead us to one of the gravest accusations against TKF, which is that it snubs the story of the victims other than the Kashmiri Pundits, especially the Muslims who got killed by the militants. While this might never fall in deaf ears, we can probe into the history of movies about one of the most horrifying events in human history and find out that focusing largely on a community which had to go through inhuman ordeals of ethnic cleansing (or attempts on it) didn’t really impair the reputation of those films; especially because the said community had almost nobody to speak for it at the time. From the beginning to this day, World war 2 movies were mostly about the Nazi-Jew binary, mostly brushing aside the others who were at the receiving end of the Nazi wrath. Trust me, I am in no way trying to justify the filmmakers who turned a blind eye towards of the atrocities committed against homosexuals, disabled, the Jehovah’s witnesses and Gypsies in their films; I am just trying to point out that a community that suffered so much for what they are, deserves that exclusivity in at least one film, when Jews got that privilege in scores of movies. When a community’s sufferings lead to the making of so many movies that carefully avoided the contributions of millions of dead and survived soldiers from Asia (mostly our nation) and Africa, it paved the way for heated debates and discussions which continue to date. The makers of TKF might have failed to include the victims of the J&K turmoil other than the Pundits (or Hindus in general), but the question I want to ask is this; why didn’t I know about the non-Hindu victims before this film was released and stirred up a controversy? Why ban a film that brings about so much positive discussion? Okay, now comes the allegation of propaganda. Well, let’s discuss that next.

Propaganda films are films too.

Many critics of the film complain that the film is propaganda. Well, I haven’t seen the film yet, so let’s just agree on this for the sake of the argument. Now, let me ask you this, since when did we start hating propaganda films so much? We have no qualms in spending our hard earned money on the American messiah films. Please don’t tell me the American superhero films are not propaganda. They are that and much more. That is why the Chinese are planning on banning these films incrementally. That is why the Soviet Union didn’t allow most of them into their country, which proved to be a boon for the monstrous Bollywood mass market movies of that time. They know that Americans, the grandmasters of packaging, will sneak in their individualistic, capitalistic ideology into their countries camouflaged as pop entertainment. Should we, who are not a stringent dictatorship like those countries, ban those films too? I don’t believe so. If you start banning the ideas you don’t like (after all, propaganda is the dissemination of the ideology or idea that you don’t like, isn’t it?), we will be starting to take baby steps towards a benevolent dictatorship, and then much worse, probably. God knows I am not saying propaganda is good; just trying to say that it is such a vast and complex reality that we have to live with in these days of communication explosion. I think the phrase ‘let’s be careful, not paranoid’ sums up the whole idea of how to deal with propaganda. The film has been in theatres for more than two weeks for now and has turned out to be a huge hit, and this gives me a kind of satisfaction that I can’t really put into words. I don’t think there are two opinions about the unimaginable trauma Kashmiri Hindus had to go through at that time of a Global political turmoil, and the fact that all that suffering passed through a blind spot created by those massive political changes and sheer apathy towards the cause due to various geopolitical reasons or ignorance. I want this film to stay in theaters much longer and to be seen by a lot more people because fear of politics and propaganda should not stop this historical event from being a matter of discussion in our country. Well, let’s say it’s already happening and I am happy because the discourse on the film’s virtues and vices are already on. Let’s keep this going on, and like any functioning democracy, stay away from calling for bans that could hamper our freedom of expression, and insisting people give away their hard earned money just because they don’t align with your ideology or beliefs. It is a great thing to be living in democratic multicultural society, so let’s be characteristic of that. On that note, I am signing off to see if I can drag myself out of my room to a theater where the movie plays.