‘Article 370’ movie review: Yami Gautam steers this explainer on the government’s Kashmir policy

Released in an election year, Aditya Suhas Jambhale’s film milks historical events according to the political narrative set by the ruling dispensation

February 23, 2024 01:34 pm | Updated 01:35 pm IST

Yami Gautam Dhar in ‘Article 370’

Yami Gautam Dhar in ‘Article 370’

As audiences warm up to the election season, filmmakers have begun their share of canvassing. The first out of the block is Article 370, a persuasive sarkari explainer on the government’s Kashmir policy that led to the abrogation of the contentious constitutional provision on August 5, 2019.

These are recent events and very much in the public memory, but the makers’ goal seems to be to take the audience into confidence about what led to the end of the special status of Jammu & Kashmir before the ruling party goes to the polls. For a decision whose long-term impact has yet to pan out, the film is in a hurry to present it as a master-stroke.

Like a fancy PowerPoint presentation backed by a thumping background score, director Aditya Suhas Jambhale efficiently joins the dots that often get lost in the din of electronic news channel debates. The timing of the release doesn’t seem like a coincidence. Aditya Dhar’s Uri (2019) efficiently dramatised what went behind the surgical strike against Pakistan after the Uri attack of 2016. That film was also released in an election year. Dhar is a co-producer and co-writer of Article 370 and his better half and competent actor Yami Gautam leads the team here as intelligence officer Zooni Haksar. A Kashmiri Pandit, who has a personal grudge against the corrupt political leadership of the State, Zooni is strategically positioned to peddle the us vs them narrative.

The writers milk the historical events according to the political narrative set by the ruling dispensation. So Jawaharlal Nehru’s alliance with Sheikh Abdullah was flawed but the film keeps mum on the takeaways of the Bharatiya Janata Party’s coalition government with Jammu & Kashmir People’s Democratic Party.

Article 370 (Hindi)
Director: Aditya Suhas Jambhale
Cast: Yami Gautam, Priyamani, Raj Zutshi, Arun Govi, Divya Seth
Run-time: 160 minutes
Storyline: Zooni, a spy, leads an operation laying the groundwork of the abrogation of Article 370 in the erstwhile state of Jammu & Kashmir

While Uri had the license to go jingoistic, here the subject demands a little more nuance and Jambhale resists tonal exaggeration. The film smartly weaves into the narrative how back-channel diplomacy has become passe and the trusted methods of negotiating with the separatists and double agents to buy temporary peace in the Valley have become outdated. More importantly, it talks of the business of terrorism and conflict economy to expose the moral ambiguity of the separatist movement and the local political leadership. There is no attempt to see Delhi’s role in this matrix but the pragmatic approach to look at the problem works and provides heft to the story.

But in its effort to demonise the Kashmiri leadership, the film reveals a lot about their erstwhile friends in Delhi. For those who choose to see, it gives the impression that the present dispensation chose to pick technicality over constitutional morality on the Kashmir issue. And that human rights violations are an option for its officers. In an important scene after the Burhan Wani encounter, when her senior officer asks Zooni what could she have done differently, she says, she would not have returned the body of an alleged terrorist to the family and towards the end shows that she could do it. It leaves us with the thought of whether the land is more important than the people. All the talk of providing reservation to the scheduled castes and tribes sounds hollow for a film that sees Kashmir as an integral part of India invests very little in depicting Kashmiris as people with flesh and blood. They are presented as opportunistic parasites for whom 370 was an article of faith, literally.

Seasoned performer Raj Zutshi plays a political figure that seems like a cross between Farooq and Omar Abdullah with a diabolic flourish. Similarly, the ever-reliable Divya Seth turns Mehbooba Mufti into a quiet manipulative monster. In contrast, Arun Govil, making an impactful comeback, adds graces and gravitas to the character of the PM. Kiran Karmarkar, as the Home Minister, is an answer to the claptrap theatrics of Zutshi.

Those who propagate the official narrative often lament about how the ecosystem hasn’t changed despite the power shift. Here the makers have attempted the methods of the so-called ‘system’ to put its point through. The idea of two women, in control of their emotions, leading the charge is interesting. And, Yami and Priyamani — as the determined deputy secretary in the Prime Minister’s Office —consistently deliver the goods. Yami, in particular, internalises a combustive character that is struggling to save her purpose from a process that is not delivering the intended results. But after a point when the film reduces to just a two-woman show, the proceedings become increasingly simplistic and similar to one-man armies that used to populate the Bollywood landscape. It seems the makers want to bypass the democratic ethos even in the dramatised parts.

Article 370 is currently running in theatres

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