While cinema is art that has long served as a sigil for reform and revolution, how it does that is quite interesting. Sometimes, it banks on the general opinion that thrives in society and builds on that idea to create a larger-than-life reflection of it. At other times, it refuses to conform and tells stories that we have conveniently shut our eyes to.
No Fathers In Kashmir is a story you wouldn’t expect to be told, it is not a story we expect ourselves to be accepting of. Yet, it is all of that, and then some.
Directed by Oscar-nominated powerhouse Ashvin Kumar, No Fathers In Kashmir has you expecting nothing less than brilliance, and that is exactly what is served. Zara Webb’s innocent blue eyes trying to explore Kashmir add to Shivam Raina’s nervous self, as he tries to explore his own bravery. The two children are in search of their fathers, both of whom were taken away by the Indian army and never returned. However, things turn dark when they’re arrested. Noor (Zara) is easily freed as she is a British citizen, while Majid (Shivam) is left behind as his mother screams in such agony that rattles your very bones.
The children represent life in Kashmir. The innocent and the yet to be moulded, they’re free falling, trying to understand their own situation. They hear and see everything, they’re the future that demands answers.
Throughout No Fathers In Kashmir, the children explore their options; whether to go looking for their fathers or not, whether to call out the terrorists, or to call them “militants.” When Majid quickly holds a gun for Noor to take a photo of him, the entirety of their reality is served. Every single young person in Kashmir has a choice to make. The film refuses to question either choice, making the reality of it seem more haunting. It simply presents the psyche of those who try to put their children to sleep every night as they hear the sound of guns pierce through in the background.
We see a distraught father forgive the man responsible for the disappearance of his son. “We never know why people do what they do, because we weren’t there.”
It urges the audience to stop labelling people, to try and walk a mile in the shoes of another before climbing on a high horse and judging them, to remember they are people too. Just like us. What I experienced in the theatre amongst the audience was a certain discomfort. While everyone felt the vulnerability of the Kashmiris, they found themselves unable to freely accept their reality. It was almost as if everyone was afraid of it. Ignorance is bliss, as they say, and the film bursts exactly that bubble of comfort.
The reality of Kashmir:
In a time when Kashmiris are being attacked for simply being born there, No Fathers In Kashmir makes you question your own humanity. How did we train ourselves to so deeply dehumanise an entire community of people simply because they were born on a certain piece of land?
For once, we see the fair-skinned Kashmiri as one of our own. We see them ask for “Azaadi” not because they are not thankful, but because their entire lives they have only known conflict. They’re women who live as half-widows, unable to move on for lack of closure, waiting on their husbands, waiting on miracles. They’re people who have lost faith in a resolution, and simply want the infected limb to be finally cut off.
“You do what you think is right. What else can one do?” The movie refuses to take sides. When the children are arrested by the army, a soldier offers biscuits to Noor. They do not deter from their duty, but the spark of humanity shines through. As Majid is finally freed after protests, we see a martyred soldier’s body arrive as the media leaps on dramatising the situation to the point of mocking it.
In a way, we see the media as ourselves. To us, Kashmir has become an old grandma’s tale - one in which we have conveniently chosen the heroes we like best, vilifying all others, as if it were that simple.
No Fathers In Kashmir does a remarkable job of birthing in the viewer a sense of empathy. It refuses to pit the army against the common citizen of the state. It simply shows everybody trying to do the best they can, just as we all are, the only difference is, our fights are simpler.