the last time bollywood mentioned the exodus of kashmir pundits from the valley was in the 2020 ‘shikara‘, by vidhu vinod chopra. Vivek Ranjan Agnihotri’s ‘The Kashmiri Archives‘ expands on that narrative and makes it the only lens through which he sees it. From the start, we know which side the film’s sympathies are on; As far as ‘the Kashmiri files’ is concerned, it was not an ‘exodus’, it was a ‘genocide’, in which thousands of Kashmiri Hindus were massacred, women raped, children killed at close range: even today, those families live as refugees.
The emotional center of the film is Pushkar Nath Pandit (Anupam Kher), a teacher who is expelled from his home in Srinagar after his son is brutally murdered. thirty years later, his grandson krishna (darshan kumaar) returns to srinagar, carrying the ashes of pushkar nath, and with the help of his grandfather’s closest friends (mithun chakraborty, puneet issar, atul srivastava) learns lessons that anguish him and they wake him up. he has managed to live, oddly enough, without knowing the dire circumstances under which his grandfather tried to rescue him: even the average student at the red brick university he attends (jnu, by another name) would have at least a bit of insight into the recent history of kashmiri, and how, after jagmohan, there was an exodus of the pundits, and how they were trucked to jammu, to lead a miserable life in the camps plagued by snakes and scorpions.
The device of an ignorant character is useful in a movie like this. Krishna is unaware of the terrors facing his family, as he was a baby in their arms when they fled. complicit muslim neighbors pointing out hiding places, bearded islamic terrorists having tacit ties to shady universities in delhi whose ‘leftist’ professors (pallavi joshi) ‘brainwash’ students with zealous ‘azaadi’ slogans – it’s all here. Srivastava, who plays a cowardly TV journalist, says something interesting about how the stone throwers and slogan shouters would show up when the international media came looking for them, and how they would disappear as soon as the gang left town, allowing them to gather. to use words like ‘fake media’. but this is not a movie interested in nuance: it is a sledgehammer, especially in the way he stages his bloody murders and lynchings, which make you wince and close your eyes.
there may be other films that bring together other points of view; it does not mention, for example, how people continue to be killed even after the repeal of article 370, and what that says about the ‘vaadi’ today. ‘the kashmir files’ is not that film, and it does not claim to be. In all the ghastly excesses it shows (a terrorist forcing a wife to dine on her husband’s blood, a living woman being sliced in half), what emerges is the deep-seated anger of the Kashmiri pundits: the fires have accumulated but the embers continue to burn. this is a movie that fanns those embers, it doesn’t examine the way forward: what else are we supposed to think about when it closes in on a child’s face, shot point-blank in the forehead?
With all his propagandistic verve and cementing the favorite discourse of the current dispensation, he manages to harness the pain of displaced pundits. What we are left with are glimpses of the genuine pain that engulfs Pushkar Nath (Anupam Kher in a believable twist, though parts of him are overwrought), damaged and insane, but never forgetting his beloved Habba Kadal. he will never be able to return home.
Cashmere Archives Cast: Anupam Kher, Mithun Chakraborty, Puneet Issar, Darshan Kumaar, Joshi Pallavi, Mrinal Kulkarni, Atul Srivastava, Chinmay Mandlekar Cashmere Archives Director: vivek ranjan agnihotri cashmere archives rating: 1.5 stars