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Vidhu Vinod Chopra: ‘I want people to see Shikara without any prejudices’

Filmmaker Vidhu Vinod Chopra with actors Sadia and Aadil Khan during special screening of his film 'Shikara' in New Delhi

Filmmaker Vidhu Vinod Chopra with actors Sadia and Aadil Khan during special screening of his film 'Shikara' in New Delhi  

The veteran filmmaker discusses an 11-year-old desire to tell the story of the Kashmiri Pandits and the threat of political appropriation

The exodus of Kashmiri Pandits has been frequently used for political whataboutery while discussing the current lockdown and reports of human rights violation in Kashmir. Already surrounded by controversies, Vidhu Vinod Chopra’s Shikara sets out to navigate this tricky subject, with an intent to provide “healing” to Kashmiri Pandits. Ahead of its release this Friday, the filmmaker discusses the relevance of the film in today’s India and Kashmir. Edited excerpts from an email interview…

What prompted you to adapt Rahul Pandita’s book, Our Moon Has Blood Clots? How faithful were you to the source material as a filmmaker?

Shikara is a story about the exodus of Kashmiri Pandits and draws its inspiration from several sources. [It’s] primarily [about] my own past, having [been] born and having lived in Kashmir for many years. And our own families’ experience of being part of the exodus. Apart from that, Rahul Pandita’s brilliant book, Our Moon Has Blood Clots is a significant resource for the film. It is a very well-researched documentation on what led to the Kashmiri Pandit exodus and the apathy and neglect of the Kashmiri Pandit families for all these years. We have also used details from actual Pandit family experiences and their plight living in Jagti refugee camp. It has taken me 11 years to tell this story and is a combination of a significantly large amount of people who have been part of the process. Abhijat [Joshi], Rahul and I worked on this together and hopefully when the movie opens on February 7, it should leave an impact across.

How do you translate exposition and factually dense material onto the screen, which is an audio-visual medium?

In Shikara’s case, it has taken me 11 years of painstakingly sifting through tons of documentation, actual accounts, references from books and our own collective wisdom to tell a story which is palatable and communicates the message.

Looking for healing: (left) Vidhu Vinod Chopra; (right) A still from Shikara

Looking for healing: (left) Vidhu Vinod Chopra; (right) A still from Shikara  

Particularly with Kashmir as it stands today, how do you think this film adds to the ongoing conversation?

It will be a welcome relief as it talks about communities and people coming together to resolve an issue. We have tried to do full justice in telling about the atrocities done to the Kashmiri Pandits and how a once blossoming region polarised almost overnight and led to driving out of more than four lakh Kashmiri Hindus. Since we speak about a dialogue, and I have spoken about it in several of my interviews, I believe there is no better time than now to start a dialogue in Kashmir about the return of the Kashmiri Pandits.

You said earlier that the film provides ‘healing’. Could you elaborate on that?

The film’s underlying theme is that when hate is all that is left, love is your only weapon. The story revolves around Shiv and Shanti Dhar, a Kashmiri Pandit couple displaced from their home and 30 years of their struggle to go back. Despite having gone through the ordeal of being thrown out from their motherland, they display immaculate patience, perseverance and are an embodiment of love and peace. Without diluting any aspect of the gruesome atrocities done on the Kashmiri Pandit families, we have tried to tell a story that when love fails, there is no hope. And that we believe is the message the movie will communicate. We want communities to come together and have a dialogue so that we can restore the peace and prosperity of Kashmir. I firmly believe that the movie will heal and bring people together.

From the time the book released in 2013 (under a different government) to today, when the film is releasing in a completely different time (after the abrogation of Article 370 in Kashmir), do you think that the relevance of the story has changed? Would it be perceived differently?

The Kashmiri Pandit issue has remained irrelevant for the last 30 years. Barring this book and the movie that we are releasing after our arduous journey, there is hardly any relevant documentation or discussion or steps taken to rehabilitate the Kashmiri Pandits back in Kashmir. I believe that the movie should force the establishment to take cognisance of the issue and do what is right, which we have failed to do for the last 30 years and that is to give the Kashmiri Pandits justice. A very large part of India and the world is not aware of what transpired and led to the events of 1990. Perceptions across are very different and we wish to bring out the reality to celluloid.

The trailer shows a sense of disappointment in Kashmiri Pandits not receiving any support from the ‘majority’ during the exodus. Does the film aim at generating that solidarity that the Pandits didn’t receive back then?

Yes, it is a fact that the Kashmiri Pandits did not get the necessary support from subsequent governments starting with 1990. The film does aim at generating a conversation around the apathy and neglect faced by the Kashmiri Pandit families with the hope that a conversation will start and things will normalise. There is a great saying in Kashmir – Sheen galli, wand tsali, te pat aayi bahaar. What it means is that the snow will melt, winter will vanish and spring will come again. And I hope that that spring returns to the Valley soon.

A film can hardly be detached from the time it is releasing in, and with the controversies surrounding the film already, are you worried about the film being used for political gains?

The movie has been ready for over six months and we had intended to release in November. But due to the 370 abrogation, I delayed it because I did not want to look like I am exploiting the situation. It is a very intense film which tells a story about the atrocities and injustice done to Kashmiri Pandits and I want people to see it without any prejudices.

What, in your opinion, is the way forward for Kashmiri Pandits to truly achieve catharsis with the past?

There is only one way forward – that the movie generates enough momentum for the establishment to sit up and take notice. And initiate a conducive dialogue for the Pandit families to return to their motherland.

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Printable version | Apr 6, 2020 5:25:35 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/movies/vidhu-vinod-chopra-i-want-people-to-see-shikara-without-any-prejudices/article30744433.ece

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