Cast: Sadia, Aadil Khan, Faisal Simon
Directors: Vidhu Vinod Chopra
Producer: Vidhu Vinod Chopra
Dear Vidhu Vinod Chopra
Since your film celebrates the letter-writing skills of its hero Shiv Kumar Dhar, I was also inspired to write one.
The displacement of 400,000 Kashmiri Pandits who were turfed out of their homes and turned into refugees in their own country, is a subject that touches many of us. So it’s heartening that you chose to film what happened in the beautiful valley in January, 1990.
It was also heartwarming to be introduced to Kashmiriyat, the unique culture of the Kashmiris. A wedding in Srinagar with the bridal couple in traditional wear, a married woman with the typical long earrings, shikara or boat rides and friendship that once existed between different communities are compulsory visuals. And you’ve followed it with textbook precision.
As writer-editor-director, you do have a few excellent scenes that bring out the heart wrench of being forced to leave your home and flee with your family. And there is one shot of Benazir Bhutto’s provocative speech that set Kashmir on fire.
But after that, why did I get the feeling that this was like a noble thought which didn’t know which way to head?
I guess it was because instead of forcefully spotlighting the ethnic cleansing that killed, raped, tortured and threatened an entire community, the focus shifted to Shiv and Shanti. A Kashmiri Pandit couple that doted on each other all through 30 years of marriage and mourned the death of Kashmiriyat. It thus turns into a love story where the husband does everything to make her dream of seeing the Taj Mahal come true. In the bargain, the genocide becomes more a backdrop to their romance than the fulcrum of the film.
With Shiv writing letters to a string of American Presidents, one wonders why there’s an attempt to deflect from the harrowing human tragedy and pin the blame for this Hitlerian ethnic cleansing on American guns and Pakistani militants.
But when one sees the credits where politicians like Mehbooba Mufti are thanked, one begins to understand that you Vidhu were walking a tightrope where you didn’t want to come out and whole-heartedly narrate the plight and flight of the Pandits. By thanking the very politicians who allowed this genocide to happen on their watch, the Kashmiri Pandit gets shortchanged again.
Cinematically, is the story of Shiv and Shanti strong enough to veer away from the genocide and hold the viewer’s interest? Unfortunately, a painfully slow pace and music without melody, doesn’t ignite the romance either.
On the other hand, it is poignant when you Vidhu tell us at the end that Shikara is a tribute to your mother Shanti who passed away without ever going home to Kashmir again. And you do make up for many lapses with that brilliant last line where Kashmiri kids curiously glimpse at Shiv Kumar because they’ve never seen a Kashmiri Pandit in their lives.
Verdict: For a film that doesn’t quite do justice to the ethnic cleansing of the Kashmiri Pandit, Shikara gets a 2.5* rating.