Vidhu Vinod Chopra’s latest directorial venture opens with the caveat that it’s a work of fiction based on true events. Also, we are told that the people we see on the screen at the refugee camps aren't just actors but actual refugees who were displaced and rendered homeless during one of the most tragic chapters in our country’s history - the exodus of Kashmiri Pandits.
It is Chopra’s most personal work so far and also his most restrained. The screenplay by him, along with Rahul Pandita and Abhijat Joshi weaves a tale of love and longing. An ode to Kashmir, to all the goodness, that it once stood for.
However, the tone of caution in order to avoid melodrama and whip up passions somehow robs the film of a natural nonchalance needed to tell a story such as this one. Perhaps this is because of the current political climate in the country and how any and every reference of Kashmir’s present and past will have repercussions far and wide.
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Shikara starts like a love story, a blossoming romance against the backdrop of a picturesque Kashmir where a Latif will leave his cricket match and the prospect of making a resounding century for his best friend Shiv (Aadil khan) so he can deliver his love letter to Shanti (Sadia). Much of this works, thanks to the charming debutants Sadia and Aadil khan. This paradise gets rudely disrupted when the indiscriminate killing starts and Pandits are singled out and attacked.
The tonality changes and it’s commendable how restrained the narrative still is. Everything happens quickly. The Pandits have no choice but to run for their lives leaving their homes behind. At the refugee camp in Jammu, things are depressing. Someone mentions how “parliament mein shor machega” because so many Pandits have been displaced but there is an eerie silence and nothing happens. The point that somewhere we probably let down our own people by our apathy towards their condition is made without raising the pitch. And then we return to the two lovers and how their identity is linked to the land that they now can’t return to. Life slowly ebbs to normal but it will never be the same again, will it?
Astonishingly convincing as the much in love couple when even age hasn’t jaded their romance, it is Sadia and Aadil’s performance that gives this film its soul. They speak the language of love and compassion throughout.
It must have been a well thought out plan by makers. But for such a complex issue like Kashmir where so many parties and interests are involved, to keep the gaze this narrow and focused somehow takes away the intended impact of the film. The aching loss of home and friends and the familiarity and comfort that it brings is a recurring theme, but watch Shikara for the lovely story and you won’t be disappointed. I give it 3 quints out of 5. The story of the exodus of Kashmiri Pandits perhaps deserves a more powerful film.