Mumbai, 07 Feb 2020 16:40 IST
The Vidhu Vinod Chopra film is a moving portrayal of one of the darkest chapters of recent Indian history, though the filmmaker does try to play safe.
The almost overnight exodus of Pandits from the Kashmir valley over three decades ago will remain one of the darkest chapters in modern Indian history. The erstwhile state of Jammu & Kashmir was in the throes of a separatist campaign from late 1989 led by the Jammu & Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF). The Pandits in particular and Hindus in general were slowly leaving the valley following death threats and murders of some prominent persons.
Then, on the intervening night of 18 and 19 January 1990, the militants launched attacks on Kashmiri Pandit families in different parts of the valley, forcing them to flee their homes immediately and move to Jammu and beyond, becoming refugees in their own country.
This painful subject has hardly been explored in Hindi cinema, except for Ashoke Pandit’s Sheen (2004). Now, Vidhu Vinod Chopra has stepped forward with the love story of Shiv Kumar Dhar (Aadil Khan) and Shanti (Sadia). Shiv, a professor, falls in love with nurse Shanti in an unusual manner and they get married.
The couple looks forward to a life of serenity in the beautiful valley, their home, but tension mounts and they are left with no option but to leave along with thousands of others, making their home in abominable conditions in cramped refugee camps for the next few years. Yet, Shiv and Shanti remain hopeful of returning to their beloved Kashmir one day.
The film depends heavily on the performances of its lead couple since the story is narrated through their eyes, and first-timers Khan and Sadia have shown immense maturity while portraying different periods of their characters' lives. Chopra deserves kudos for casting them. Whenever they are together, they look like a real-life couple deeply in love with each other.
One would have expected a film exploring such a subject to start in a hard-hitting manner. But Chopra and co-writers Abhijat Joshi and Rahul Pandita take their time to establish the characters and their lives. While you wonder about this initially, the structure begins to make sense when the exodus takes place and the irony of the beauty of Kashmir becoming inversely proportional to the sadness of the lives of its people becomes brutally apparent. This irony, incidentally, continues till today.
The scenes of exodus hang between being heartrending and scary. Chopra has done well while going into the detailing and casting appropriate artistes in various supporting and side roles. While watching the scenes of the displaced Kashmiri Pandits, one realizes that the exodus was no less serious than the Partition of India. But there should have been more clarity on what led to the exodus; not everyone is aware of the background and it remains a subject for propagandists.
Shikara itself steers clear of political propaganda of any kind despite the film being about a Hindu minority coming into conflict with a Muslim majority in a crucial border state. Without saying much, it takes a stand against hatred emanating from any religion. For example, there is a scene where Shiv politely and lovingly stops a group of kids from shouting “Mandir wahin banayenge” (referring to the demand of a section of Hindus to build a Ram temple in Ayodhya where the Babri mosque once stood).
But as the film heads towards its finale, it faces a dilemma, getting caught between the issue of the Pandits and the personal love story of Shiv and Shanti. Intentionally or otherwise, Chopra tilts the narrative towards the latter and offers little in terms of the issue the film has portrayed for most of its duration. Perhaps the filmmaker wanted to play it safe given the political minefield the issue has become. Nowhere does the film even mention the failure of subsequent state and central governments to do anything to help the Pandits.
Chopra has mentioned that the film is an ode to his mother, Shanti, who had to flee the valley in 1990 and could never return. But that still does not justify the toning down of the political angle since the issue is at heart intensely political.
Even so, Shikara wins your heart in the applause-worthy post-credits scene which brings the story to a close on a hopeful note. In the final analysis, the pluses overcome the minuses.
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