Director Vidhu Vinod Chopra gives the audience a film that is all set to become a benchmark
Better late than never. Finally there is a film on the exodus of Kashmiri pandits. The much in news and discussions incident has taken the form of a film, and thankfully so. Now this was a risky territory. The sensibilities had to be right on point. Hats off to Vidhu Vinod Chopra, who takes the director’s chair after so long. He has given Shikara the maturity it demands and the respect that it deserves.
The story revolves around the painfully tragic incident concerning how Kashmiri pandits had to flee Kashmir during the late 1989 and afterwards as a result of being targeted by JKLF and Islamic insurgents.
The writing by Chopra, Rahul Pandita, and Abhijat Joshi is very endearing. Beginning with the helplessness of an old man, it quickly moves to showing you a sweet love story of the 80s, before finally getting to the point. Now this is a good set-up for the premise and the characters. The writing makes the film take its due progression wherein things have an inherent flow.
How a promising cricketer turns to being an insurgent (giving you an idea of similar stories happening elsewhere too) and how terror slowly creeps in hitting the lives of Kashmiri pandits is shown well. A little tighter writing for this particular part was however needed, where you needed a little more insight into the political turmoil. What is shown is fine, but you do feel the need to know more, since the film rises because of that. Somebody who’s an alien to the incident today might want to Google the information after the film, no doubt, but the makers should have delved a bit deeper.
What the makers however should be credited for is portraying the gradual growth in terror, the inability to defend oneself or stand strong.
The writing is also remarkable in a sense of presenting the feeling of what it is like to call a place your ‘home’ which you have leave never to return. How a Roganjosh dish brings back those haunted memories to Shanti (Sadia) or how cheerfully accepting the life, she says to her husband Shiv (Aadil Khan)- ‘Mera achha ghar toh aap hain’. There are scenes where Shiv meets his childhood friend a couple of times. They are all moments of gold. The part where the displaced struggle to grab tomatoes is yet again a powerful picture. Chopra creates such moments with his affinity towards moving emotions.
Towards the end, especially for the last 15mins, you are left in tears, and it is this point that you want something more. A mature attempt that it is, needs mature audience. Also, here, kudos to Chopra for keeping the film practical in the end and not dramatic.
The casting of fresh faces works wonders for the film. They come without any baggage. Of course, you might argue that it’s a little difficult for you to connect to them. But here, you marvel the actors’ brilliance.
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Aadil Khan and Sadia are perfect as the protagonists, who take you along the landscape and the journey. You see the story through them. And after a point, you become one with them. They both portray the vulnerabilities of a couple stranded, their helplessness, their belonging to a place, and how they remain courageous despite all odds.
They exude warmth and likability. Right from the time they appear first on screen, they bring a calm to the overall scenario. And that’s the reason why you form a connection with them. While Sadia plays someone who’s majorly responsive, the haunting emptiness is perfectly portrayed by Aadil Khan. They two balance each other tremendously well. Doesn’t feel for a moment that it’s their first film. They match seasoned actors.
There’s a scene, a long take, where the focus is on Aadil and a nazm is being played in the backdrop in his voice. The scene keeps on and with the lines of the nazm, his expressions get grave and he sheds a tear in the same shot. Incredible.
Priyanshu Chatterjee has a small role. He is okay. Zain Khan Durrani as Lateef has a memorable act and he leaves an impression.
Songs by Sandesh Shandilya and Abhay Sopori are few but soulful and powerful. They contribute well in shaping the overall film. Background score by the genius A R Rahman and Qutub-e-Kripa is extraordinary. Working in layers and moods, the score binds the film and wraps the structure entirely. There are places where there are no dialogues. It’s just well placed score that does the job magnificently.
Camera work by Rangarajan Rambadran must be credited endlessly for being so enticing. You consume the film, the major portion, through your eyes and just can’t stop admiring the effort it must have taken to get the feel across. The frames are beautiful. Production design by Sonal Sawant has realism stroked all through. Not for a moment does it seem that the sets are made up. Lighting too much be appreciated. Give it up for makers for giving the age progression well. The actors seem to grow just right.
Editing by Chopra and Shikhar Misra is also razor sharp. With absolutely no dull moment, editing defines the film to a great deal. Cherish the structure of the film keenly for that’s one of the very important ways to actually get the hang of the film. It’s slow but very well placed for such a film.
While for Kashmiri pandits themselves, this will bring memories. For others, it needed to be a little more in information. It is one rare film. But a very important one. Thankfully Hindi cinema has made this film.