Let this be said at the outset that Oscar-nominated director Ashvin Kumar’s ‘No Fathers in Kashmir’ is a praise-worthy attempt at portraying a nuanced story of the Kashmir conflict. The narrative revolves around Noor, a British-Kashmiri teenager, who visits Kashmir and embarks on a journey to unearth the truth about her disappeared father. Her journey reveals many ugly truths of the conflict-ridden life in Kashmir.
The film does a commendable job at capturing many aspects of the conflict on celluloid from the prism of human rights of an ordinary Kashmiri.
Those who are well versed with Kashmir will certainly be reminded of Basharat Peer’s memoir Curfewed Night and Vishal Bharadwaj’s film Haider. What makes ‘No Fathers in Kashmir’ different is not easy to explain. A lot of scenes and even the sub-narrative is almost similar to that of Haider. Ashvin, however, has taken pains to bring nuance to the storytelling on Kashmir.
Ashvin has woven the narrative around the disappeared persons of Kashmir and encapsulated the torture, illegal detention, encounters, large presence of troops, cordon and search operations and frisking, blending it well with the main plot of the movie. The film is sensitive in its portrayal of the dilemmas, pains, and struggles of the families whose members never returned home. The half-widows and their plight are similar despite the difference in their social and education status.
The film, however, is less than perfect.
No Pakistan in Kashmir?
In telling the story of disappeared persons of Kashmir, the director has overlooked one aspect completely. Many young boys who crossed the line of control to receive training in Pakistani terrorist camps lost their lives owing to harsh weather, the avalanches and snowstorms of the treacherous terrains around LoC.
They died either on their way to the training camps or on their return. The movie fails to acknowledge this aspect of the disappeared persons.
‘No fathers in Kashmir’ is critical of almost every actor and stakeholder of the conflict. Scenes, often short, have been inserted smartly to show the ugliness of the various movers and shakers of the conflict – the armed forces, the local leaders, and the media. However, there is not a single substantial mention of Pakistan, which as per the introduction of the movie, is the other country fighting the “secret war” in Kashmir.
Tokenism About Indian Armed Forces
The movie begins with subtitles explaining how there is a “secret war” between India and Pakistan going on in Kashmir. This is far from the truth. It appears the director got a little self-congratulatory too early in an attempt to show his work as the only true depiction of the story of Kashmir. The conflict in Kashmir is well documented and very often makes international headlines. There is an entire library of books on Kashmir, dozens of films & documentaries, thousands, if not millions, of pieces of journalism on Kashmir written about it. The conflict is far from a “secret war.
The nuance in the movie also goes for a toss in the portrayal of the armed forces.
There is some tokenism in projecting the armed forces as humane – in one instance a troopers hands over a packet of biscuit to Noor in the detention centre and in other instance Noor sees the dead body of the same trooper who is killed in an encounter with militants. Notwithstanding the fact that the depiction is the filmmakers’ prerogative but the critics will definitely point this out, particularly when the movie depicts the good, the bad and ugly realities of all the other characters.
Who Represents the Ugly Truth of Kashmir?
The most important character of the movie is the anti-hero Arshid Lone, a madarasa-running village leader. The character is played by Ashvin himself who is also the scriptwriter of the film. His acting is par excellence.
Arshid is an ex-militant, a victim of torture, and an Islamist who believes in the idea of jihad to establish an Islamic state in Kashmir. He is also a collaborator, a human rights activist, the culprit in many broken lives, a safety valve in difficult situations, and a bridge between the State and the angry population.
He is also a moralist vigilante in public and a corrupt man in his personal life. His ideas are moralistic but his actions pugnacious.
If you are watching the movie, follow the trials and tribulation of this character keenly. The real story, or perhaps the untold story of Kashmir, is told through him.
This is perhaps the most realistic depiction of the Kashmiri leaders on screen, who happen to be the symbol of the ugly truth of Kashmir.
Personal Truth Versus Collective Truth
The director has done an outstanding job in unveiling the many versions of truth about the fathers of Noor and Majid, the two teenagers who fall in love and eventually end up in a detention centre.
There is a personal truth about their fathers known to Arshid Lone, Noor’s grandmother played by Soni Razdan, her grandfather and perhaps Majid’s mother. But there is also a collective truth.
The personal truth and the collective truths are different versions of the same reality. And then there are layers of it. The viewers will be intrigued and surprised to see who knows what and to whom they reveal it.
Despite its shortcomings, Ashvin Kumar has done a good job at representing Kashmir, its people, and their culture in a realistic style and form. Many scenes in the movie appear as if slices of day- to-day life in Kashmir are picked up and placed on the screen. The depiction of female characters is progressive and also challenges certain stereotypes about the women of Kashmir.
‘No Fathers in Kashmir’ is the best tribute to the pain and suffering of Kashmiris, particularly the families of disappeared persons. Do watch out the for a character that gets don the role of a Father.
(Khalid Shah is an Associate Fellow at ORF. His research focuses on Kashmir conflict, Pakistan and terrorism. Khalid was previously associated with leading news channels of India and did a brief stint as a correspondent in Srinagar with WION News, reporting extensively on the conflict. He tweets @khalidbshah. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)
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