By Takshi Mehta Mar. 16, 2022
I knew I was in for a unique experience when I chose to watch The Kashmir Files, but it was the absurdly regular and occasionally awkward events outside the film that made it, in certain ways, a special experience.
‘Blend in’, my voice echoes in my head. You know it’s more than a movie when you plait your hair, wear a Kurti instead of jeans and try exceptionally hard to not attract any attention. While the rest of India is witnessing halted screenings and a dearth of shows, in Gujarat, I am scrambling to get tickets despite the film’s roughly 30 shows every day. I pull some personal strings, call in a favour, and manage to get three tickets in an already full house show. I’ve had quite a few interesting experiences over the years but this, I can sense, might be different still. Not only is there an almost latent PR drive going around for a film that hasn’t actually done any marketing, there is also a sense of ‘seizing’ in people queueing up. By now, you probably already know that the film I am talking about is Vivek Agnihotri’s The Kashmir Files.
By the time I enter the theatre, anxiety has gotten the better of me. ‘Keep your opinions to yourself’ my mother whispers to me while I find my father clasping my hand tightly. I’ve dragged the two of them along because no way did I have the courage to come alone. As we walk towards our seats I find that they are occupied by some creepy-looking men, whom I’ll confess, I instantly judged (they were probably good guys, who knows?) because my skepticism was aiming for the roof. Soon, the national anthem plays and when it ends a roar of ‘Bharat Mata ki Jai’ is quickly followed by chants of ‘Jai Shri Ram’.
By the time I enter the theatre, anxiety has gotten the better of me. ‘Keep your opinions to yourself’ my mother whispers to me while I find my father clasping my hand tightly.
5 minutes into the film the cacophony of guns being fired on-screen fills the room when suddenly I hear a loud slurp from behind. I turn around to find a man gleefully swallowing his drink, while horrifying visuals play out before him. The show goes on, a few people scream something that I fail to make out, while others are unbothered by what they see onscreen; as well as what transpires around them. I am conscious of both, not sure which is making me more uncomfortable. However, almost as if someone was listening to me think, an amusing sight distracts me – a woman is playing candy crush on her phone, looking around herself frequently, trying to make sure that no one is offended by her lack of interest maybe. I am staring at her when her eyes meet mine and although I can’t see clearly in the dark, she looks embarrassed. I offer her a smile and turn away, not wanting to make her more uncomfortable.
Soon, the national anthem plays and when it ends a roar of ‘Bharat Mata ki Jai’ is quickly followed by chants of ‘Jai Shri Ram’
I must admit that before coming, I had my fair share of expectations. But one thing that I did not expect even in my wildest dreams was a wave of laughter so loud and so unanimous that it was actually weird because Kashmir Files was many things, but funny is not one of them. Allow me to paint a picture, without giving too many spoilers. Four close friends a cop, a journalist, a governor, and a doctor are all sitting together, in a scene from the film, blaming each other for not doing anything about the political situation in Kashmir. The journalist is accused for not reporting the truth to which he responds by saying that he had to protect himself. The mountainous Puneet Issar who plays the policeman shoves the journalist, a rather petite man, after which the doctor calls him an ‘aastin ka saap’. The scene draws laughter across the hall confirming that we can all, at least, agree on one common thing.
It’s remarkable really that even divisive cinema can, instantly, bring us together through a mutual disdain for something. It is that kind of place and that kind of event where scripts and tone do not count for much. For instance, a ‘baby ko bass pasand hain’ dialogue at a rather sensitive moment felt awkwardly ingenious. In another extremely gruesome scene that could leave a knot in anyone’s intestines much of the audience continue to hog popcorn unencumbered.
Near the film’s end, a dreadful silence engulfs the theatre. The brutality, and explicitness had stunned everyone into silence.
Near the film’s end, a dreadful silence engulfs the theatre. The brutality, and explicitness I assumed had stunned everyone into silence is broken by the screams of a man who, with tears in his eyes, in Gujarati says and I translate, ‘It is not blood that runs through our veins, it is piss that does if we can watch this’. The entire theatre turned to this man, half awake and half bewildered. He goes on to say the line a few more times and then disappears. A young girl tells her mother that the film gave her goosebumps, in the most collected and unruffled manner. The rest leave, mostly undisturbed to my surprise, while two three people look like they had experienced an epiphany.
All said and done, given all my fears and apprehensions, the experience was rather peaceful, or maybe it wasn’t and I’d just over-anticipated; I had of course seen the videos going around on social media and followed the stories, and heated debates around the film. Nonetheless, The Kashmir Files, has to be by far one of the most eventful watches of my life and not for what played on the screen, but for all that transpired outside of it, or didn’t. Maybe that is precisely the point.
Takshi believes that in the end, we are what we stand up for, and thus you'll always find her wielding a pen and writing frantically. When she isn't writing, you'll find her dancing or reading. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter at @takshimehta