‘Shikara’ movie review: Vidhu Vinod Chopra's film is too simplistic and tepid

A still from ‘Shikara’  

A film can hardly be detached from the time it is releasing in. Kashmir today holds the record for India’s — and arguably the world’s — longest Internet shut down, with reports of human rights violations in the dark. In this scenario, the exodus of Kashmiri Pandits in 1990 is often used for political whataboutery, pitting one human rights violation against another. Shikara walks this tricky terrain, where the impact of the film cannot be retained in the confines of a cinema hall. Perhaps aware of this, filmmaker Vidhu Vinod Chopra contains the narrative to ‘personal’ experience, with loss of home, lives, identity and dignity of a Kashmiri Pandit couple, delivering a bland, simplistic and tepid weepy, which in itself isn’t incendiary. But by stripping the story off of any political and historical context, conflict or depth, the film stands at the danger of feeding into a one-sided perspective, in an already polarising time.

  • Director: Vidhu Vinod Chopra
  • Cast: Aadil Khan, Sadia, Zain Durrani
  • Story line: Newly-wed Kashmiri Pandit couple, Shiv Kumar Dhar and Shanti, are forced to leave their home and stay in a refugee camp in Jammu

A filmmaker is entitled to his perspective. And in doing so, by focusing on the loss and almost three-decade-long unfulfilled desire for one’s homeland, Chopra aims for emotions rather than politics. Shikara makes no attempt to discuss what disrupted the seeming harmony, adding nothing new to the conversation. In a picturesquely-portrayed Kashmir, bustling with a unique culture, the film attempts to evoke the loss of a paradise that was, as the narrative begins in 1987. The protagonist, Shiv Kumar Dhar (Aadil Khan) marries Shanti (Sadia) in a traditional Kashmiri wedding. His excited Muslim best friend Latif (Zain Durrani), whose father helps the young couple build their home, is an integral part of their lives. The death of Latif’s father in an attack pushes him to militancy. While the film ascribes Muslim militant extremism to personal loss, the moral upper-hand is always with Kashmiri Pandits. For instance, a couple of years after the exodus in 1992, Shiv gently corrects a few kids chanting, ‘mandir yahi banayenge’, by telling them that a good leader unites, not divides. But an opportunist Muslim neighbour back in the Valley has squatted Shiv’s home on the pretext of guarding it and painted the interiors all green.

During the exodus, as Pandits are forced to leave home, the memories of trauma are accompanied by chants of ‘azaadi‘ in Kashmir, and in one scene, former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, on television, displays her solidarity with Kashmiri Muslims. In its pallid narrative, therefore, what stands out are moments like these, which is a reminder that a film cannot bury the politics of a story under the garb of ‘love and hope’. Beyond the ‘good Hindu, good Muslim and bad Muslim’ trope, the conversation generated by the film is of denied justice by successive Indian governments and a loss of culture as the memories of Kashmiri Pandits begin to wane. The demand is for the 4 lakh Kashmiri Pandits to return to the Valley, and Shiv writes 1664 letters over the decades to the Presidents of America, to seek international solidarity. The letters fall on deaf years, which is evocative of the bitter truth that, irrespective of time and religion, the conflict in the Valley is always an ‘internal matter’.

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Printable version | Dec 3, 2021 10:59:33 PM |

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