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'Kashmir Ki Kali' to 'The Kashmir Files': Indian Cinema's Changing Screenplay

Films on Kashmir can be divided into two categories – ones that were made prior to 1989 and those made afterwards.

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The films on Kashmir can be divided into two categories – ones that were made prior to 1989 and those produced afterwards.

The cinema before 1989 depicts Kashmir as a beautiful location with the theme of national integration while in the latter category, it is shown as a dangerous place – a smouldering hell burning in separatism and as a den of terrorism.

The problem with this kind of categorisation is that its underlying framework of patriotism versus anti-nationalism has kept us bereft of the real story of the plight of Kashmiri people. The Kashmir Files has shown the wound but the extent of pain is yet to be realised on the silver screen.

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Kashmir in Cinema Before 1989

After independence, Kashmir was shown on the silver screen as a beautiful location – heaven on earth. The trickling water of the Jhelum River, snow-capped mountains, hills and the rows of Chinar trees made it a perfect backdrop for the screenplay of a love story.

Though Kashmir had seen two wars till the late 1960s, it remained aloof from the shadow of war. The films made in this era showed the Kashmiri people as a progressive and civilised community.

In the storyline of super hit Bollywood flicks like Kashmir Ki Kali and Jab Jab Phool Khile, the screenplay shows Kashmiri people readily intermingling with ‘Hindustan'. Be it a flower seller or the houseboat owners, everyone had easy chemistry. The thorn of conflict was nowhere to be seen in their relationships.
Films on Kashmir can be divided into two categories – ones that were made prior to 1989 and those made afterwards.

The protagonist of Jangali found Kashmir to be the best place to live independently and discover the self. In Kashmir Ki Kali, Shammi Kapoor goes to Kashmir to find his dream girl and his dreams come true after a little drama in the screenplay.

In the biggest hit of that decade Jab Jab Phool Khile, Shashi Kapoor played a Kashmiri boatman who falls in love with a rich tourist. After a struggle with social status and class struggle, the two are united.

Kashmir's integration with the country has been beautifully depicted in both the films 'Kashmir Ki Kali' and 'Jab Jab Phool Khile'. However, these films have been accused of only depicting the stories of Hindu characters. They were said to be away from the reality of Kashmiriyat and the struggles of the Muslim population.

But, Yash Chopra filled that gap with Noorie. The film was immersed with Kashmiri characters and was liked not only in India but in China also. But, that was the time when guns were not smouldering in the serene atmosphere of Kashmir.

Films on Kashmir can be divided into two categories – ones that were made prior to 1989 and those made afterwards.
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The Transition in the 1980s

The story of Kashmir took a twist after 1980. The snow-clad romantic ambience was shattered and a splatter of blood appeared on ice-clad mountains. The solace under the shade of Chinar trees vanished and the shadow of terrorism appeared on the scene.

After the defeat in the 1971 war, Pakistan was ready to pounce on any opportunity and the alleged election rigging of 1987 gave the ISI the opportunity to stoke emotions. This was the time when Afghan mercenaries freed from the war against Russia entered Kashmir valley and sowed the seed of endless tyranny.

The shootings were stopped in Kashmir, theatres were attacked and curtains fell on the cinema. Soon, the so-called ‘struggle for freedom’ turned into full-scale terrorism. The terrorist who was released as a ransom for Rubaiyya Sayeed started to play ‘holi’ with the blood of common people.

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Backdrop of Terrorism and Kashmir Through the Lens of Nationalism

The lens of Bollywood also changed with the ground situation in Kashmir. After 1990, most of the storylines depicted local Kashmiris as separatists or a terrorist while protagonists came from outside Kashmir elsewhere from India to save the situation.

Mani Ratnam’s Roja in 1992 was the most talked about movie after the advent of terrorism in Kashmir.

Films on Kashmir can be divided into two categories – ones that were made prior to 1989 and those made afterwards.
The film showed heroes and villains in black and white. The story showed that terrorists kidnapped a cryptologist but he manages to convince them that they were on the wrong path and Islam does not teach violence.

The screenplay showed the initial hesitancy of the Kashmiri youth who strayed on the path of violence but their inner self was not convinced enough.

However, the struggle deepened with time and the gulf between so-called mainland India and Kashmir widened. Govind Nilhani’s Drohkal in 1994 was a military-cop drama showing deep penetration of terrorists in which the police and security forces found themselves helpless.

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The Tragedy of Kashmir and Frustration on Silver Screen

The films after the year 2000 brought stories of efforts to eliminate the conflict with talks or bullets. The gates in Delhi remained open for Kashmiris despite the growing incidents of terrorism. Be it talks of democracy, Kashmirism, and humanism during the Vajpayee era or 'the New Kashmir' in the regime of Manmohan Singh, Bollywood has tried to capture the moment in its own unique way. Mission Kashmir, Fanaa, Yahan, and Tahaan showed the fault lines in Kashmir.

In Mission Kashmir, the doctor treating the injured policeman says that it is an era of fatwas in Kashmir. The protagonist of the film – Inayat Khan, played by Sanjay Dutt, was a patriotic police officer. In a counter-terrorist operation, he kills all the members of a family but a child survives. Inayat Khan and his wife adopt the boy and bring him up. But one day, the young man finds the mask which Inayat Khan wore while killing his parents. He runs away from the home, crosses the border, and becomes a terrorist.

In Yahan – also a story of armed insurgency – the protagonist joining separatists is shown.

Fanaa, released in 2006, also talks about Kashmir. It also has a fleeting mention of the referendum but ultimately shifts to the plot of terrorism and violence. It captures the Kashmiri tragedy of “this side versus that side”.

Films on Kashmir can be divided into two categories – ones that were made prior to 1989 and those made afterwards.
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Tahaan released in 2008 is a story of a child whose father goes missing. Birbal, the donkey gifted by his father is sold over by the local moneylender and now he wants to get it back. He comes in contact with the terrorists and becomes a courier for delivering hand grenades in order to take his donkey back.

For a long time after this, no mainstream film on Kashmir was made or released. This was the time when the frustration of both Delhi and Kashmiri people was peaking and then in 2014, Haider came.

Kashmir was a background for the screenplay which matched Shakespeare’s hamlet. The film was a tragic drama and captured the frustration of Kashmiris, the issue of the army, terrorism, and 'Azadi’.

Protagonist Gazala lives in Kashmir and meets her soulmate clandestinely and also supports ‘Azadi’ but does not want her son to become a separatist. She blows herself up in order to save him from the danger which comes from the other side.

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New India and Bollywood

After Haider, Kashmir vanished as a subject of the silver screen. Though few Kashmiri characters were included in the screenplay of a few films, their screenplay was based on the story of terrorism and war. Two of these were widely acclaimed — Raazi and Uri: The Surgical Strike.

Though these films depicted Pak-sponsored terrorism and the war on the screen, Kashmir was missing from the plot.

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Exodus of Kashmiri Pandits and Silver Screen

Kashmir had seen a long history of cordial relations between Kashmiri Pandits and the Muslim community through the centuries. But after 1989, the thread binding them was charred.

Kashmiri Pandits have been through a very difficult time, and their plight was showcased by Ashok Pandit in his 2004 film Sheen. Vidhu Vinod Chopra’s Shikara also tried to depict their plight but the pot was stirred by Vivek Agnihotri’s The Kashmir Files.

Films on Kashmir can be divided into two categories – ones that were made prior to 1989 and those made afterwards.

Kashmiri Pandits feel that their story has come before the world after a gap of 30 years and Kashmir has become a central plot line again. But the question is, will we be able to see the other files of Kashmir as well? Could we hope to see a love story made in the backdrop of Kashmir?

(Translated from Quint Hindi by Arvind Singh.)

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