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‘Article 370’ Review: Yami Gautam-starrer Is High on Action, Low on Nuance

'Article 370' starring Yami Gautam hit theatres on 23 February.

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‘Article 370’ Review: Yami Gautam-starrer Is High on Action, Low on Nuance

Article 370 ends with a choice pick of headlines, showing Kashmir as a Utopia after the abrogation of Article 370 that accorded special status to Jammu & Kashmir. This neatly ties up the politics of the entire film and the half-hearted attempt at nuance. 

'Article 370' starring Yami Gautam hit theatres on 23 February.

A still from Article 370.

(Photo Courtesy: YouTube)

The film, at first, is led by two women – intelligence officer Zooni Haksar (Yami Gautam Dhar) and the joint secretary in the Prime Minister’s office Rajeshwari (Priya Mani). They both believe that abrogation of Article 370 will solve all of Kashmir’s problems – we never get any acknowledgment of actual dissent; everything is easily conflated with terrorism and ‘misguided youth’ (something like the Palestinian intifada could happen here, a character warns, with little to no effort to actually delve into what that means). 

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The word ‘stone-pelter’ is frequently thrown around and accusations of them being ‘paid’ come soon after. But this is, after all, a fictional film as the disclaimer tells you. That is probably why a journalist can fearlessly question the ruling party without any fear of repercussions (India ranked 161 of 180 in 2023 in the Press Freedom Index). 

'Article 370' starring Yami Gautam hit theatres on 23 February.

A still from Article 370.

(Photo Courtesy: YouTube)

There is one scene where an elderly man asks Zooni to not punish the entirety of Kashmir for the actions of a few – an interesting commentary against collective punishment rears its head only to get lost in the rest of the film’s politics. To its credit, the film frequently points out that civilians shouldn’t be harmed – that their safety is paramount. Whatever the ground reality be, the sentiment is sound. 

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But, I digress. Zooni is as you would expect her to be in the political-action-thriller genre – she flouts her superior’s orders and carries out a raid that ends in the encounter of a militant Burhan Wani. His death triggers violence in the valley but the only thing Zooni regrets doing is ‘returning the body’. You would think that at this point we would get glimpses of the people of Jammu & Kashmir – well, keep wishing.

'Article 370' starring Yami Gautam hit theatres on 23 February.

A still from Article 370.

(Photo Courtesy: YouTube)

Rajeshwari meets Zooni and believes that she is the best person to lead the mission to ensure that the abrogation of Article 370 does not lead to unrest in the valley. She does, of course, have personal stakes in the abrogation – she blames the special status provision for the lack of investigation into a scam that led to her father’s death. Does the film try to examine how this makes her a non-objective narrator? 

'Article 370' starring Yami Gautam hit theatres on 23 February.

A still from Article 370.

(Photo Courtesy: YouTube)

Article 370’s strength doesn’t come from an understanding of its subject. Instead, it comes from the way the film is made. Seeing two women in power navigate what is clearly a high-stakes mission is interesting – it also helps that both actors are clearly giving their best. The film, directed by Aditya Suhas Jambhale, gives its female characters their due – they are given the space to be the heroes of their own story (for the most part). 

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There is no space for them to rely on their male counterparts or unnecessary segues into love stories – they’re just incredibly powerful women on a mission. Like the film’s producer Aditya Dhar’s directorial Uri, Article 370 is well-made, the hammy background score aside. It makes the paperwork seem as interesting as the action sequences, the camera constantly on the move to properly capture it all. 

'Article 370' starring Yami Gautam hit theatres on 23 February.

A still from Article 370.

(Photo Courtesy: YouTube)

Considering that the film is clearly a celebration of the Article 370 abrogation, there is little to no stakes to worry about though (and stakes are something you wish to see in a ‘fictional film’ such as this). When Zooni and her team enter rooms, armed and ready, no matter how many guns blaze and no matter how many shells litter the floor, you know who will emerge victorious. 

A librarian who views two people with skepticism will obviously keep taking them at their word…right? It all feels too convenient even as the background score pushes you to sit at the edge of your seat. Mostly, the film’s dialogues are devoid of the jingoism we’ve come to expect from the genre if the past few films have been any indication. The acting too, holds the film together.

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Yami Gautam’s character Zooni, a Kashmiri Pandit, has her own emotional connection to the valley. As part of the mission, she now also has professional stakes there. The way the actor balances these two aspects of her character is commendable.

Through her, the film does attempt to take a look at the merits and demerits of back-channel diplomacy. Article 370 also doesn’t go down the route of using double agents for shock value – instead it attempts to look at the mechanism. Separatist movements are touched upon and local political leadership is questioned but this questioning lens never shifts to Delhi. But it is still one of the other few instances where the film uses nuance. 

'Article 370' starring Yami Gautam hit theatres on 23 February.

A still from Article 370.

(Photo Courtesy: YouTube)

Once lookalikes of the Prime Minister and the Home Minister (mostly unnamed characters played by Arun Govil and Kiran Karmakar respectively) enter the screen, we find out who the real heroes of the film are. The hero worship is evident, the hagiography is imminent. To the film’s credit, the journalist Brinda Ghosh (Iravati Harshe) constantly questions the government’s decisions regarding Kashmir on prime-time (maybe the film is actually fiction huh?). She brings up human rights violations and civilian injuries from pellet guns to point out a few things.

She and the Opposition leader even get the chance to criticise the internet shutdowns in the valley, questioning where acts such as that fall in the fabric of a democracy. 

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After recreating the horrific events of the Pulwama attack, an angered Zooni rushes into another intelligence operative’s office to question him about his methods. The film hints at oversight from within the intelligence ranks playing a part in the security breach. 

'Article 370' starring Yami Gautam hit theatres on 23 February.

A still from Article 370.

(Photo Courtesy: YouTube)

There are parts in the film where it tries to dabble in complexity – from the way the character of Khawar Ali (Arjun) is written to providing moments of introspection to Zooni's ally in the mission. 

But all of it is bulldozed by the hero worship. Even as the journalist continues to question the government’s methods, she soon becomes a character to be outsmarted for the greater good. Even as the Opposition gets a voice in the Rajya Sabha (swiftly pointing out that everyone but Kashmir is represented in the Parliament while decisions about their lives are being taken), it is clear whose side the audience is supposed to take. 

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The Home Minister (in the film, of course) is given the one-liners and the punches – they’re on the winning side. Everything else is just details. 

'Article 370' starring Yami Gautam hit theatres on 23 February.

A still from Article 370.

(Photo Courtesy: YouTube)

Article 370 does borrow heavily from real-life events (it is already clearly milking the ‘any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental’ bit to its limit). The film also has a reference to a harrowing incident from 2017 where a Kashmiri man was tied to the front of an Indian Army Jeep as a human shield. In Article 370, the man is a double agent and Zooni later soothes the officer’s conscience by assuring him that he did no wrong. 

Ah, the film’s release is probably just a coincidence isn’t it? It’s all a convenient coincidence…perhaps.

Food for thought: Have we as a country, the home to Bollywood (and now a brilliant pan-Indian pantheon of cinema), really reached a place where we think films are ‘just watched for fun’? Have we forgotten that Indian cinema was the place where filmmakers would make films about dissent, rising poverty, the cruelty of the feudal system – all because cinema matters? Can we view a film like Article 370 and ignore its messaging? Think, ponder. 

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