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Picture imperfect: Editorial on the State's affection for 'The Kashmir Files'

The Kashmir Files has now won a national award, named after Nargis Dutt, for being the best feature film on national integration. Could that have been the final nail on irony’s coffin?

The Editorial Board Published 27.08.23, 07:53 AM
Movie poster of 'The Kashmir Files'

Movie poster of 'The Kashmir Files' File picture

The affection that India’s ruling regime has for The Kashmir Files is touching. Upon the film’s release, a number of states with Bharatiya Janata Party governments scrambled to reward it with a tax-free status. The film ignited controversy on account of its distorted — divisive — interpretation of the suffering and the displacement of the Pandit community in Kashmir — the head of the jury of the International Film Festival of India dismissed it as a piece of vulgar propaganda. To douse the fire, no less than the prime minister spoke up in its defence, claiming that its critics were part of a gang that was plotting to discredit the movie. So it is not surprising that State recognition — a reward for toeing the government’s line? — continues to be showered on The Kashmir Files. It has now won a national award, that too an award named after Nargis Dutt, for being the best feature film on national integration. Could that have been the final nail on irony’s coffin?

The line separating the real and the absurd has long ceased to exist in Narendra Modi’s wonderland. New India has thus witnessed several acts on the part of Mr Modi’s dispensation that beggars belief. The Gandhi Peace Prize has been bestowed upon the Gita Press whose vision is drastically different from that of the great man whose name graces the prize. Now, a film that seeks to drive a knife through India’s still-beating heart of pluralism has been selected for the services rendered to the cause of national integration. These acts must not be treated as the whimsical diktats of a modern monarch. There is a method in the mischief. Taken together, these interventions represent cogs in the ideological wheel that has been unleashed to ride roughshod over the body politic of an inclusive republic. The Kashmir Files cannot, notwithstanding what the prime minister said, claim to be art; neither is it a factual representation of a tragedy. But it is not to be dismissed for these failures. The film’s legacy must be examined to study how free speech and cinematic licence can be weaponised by regimes to further their political ends.


This, in turn, raises two attendant questions. The first concerns the subservience of the national awards towards the powers that be. In recent years, there have been quite a few films, including cinematic accounts of the military strike across the border and, astoundingly, of the present prime minister’s childhood, that have picked up national awards. This is hardly an exception. The platform of national awards for cinema has never been able to wriggle out of the long shadow of State patronage. These honours — an official pat on the back — cannot quite make a serious claim on the
mantle of independent cinematic thought. The second, equally illustrative, point concerns the fraught relationship between the arts and totalitarianism. History has shown that the arts, especially those that are deemed subversive or dissenting, are the proverbial red rag in front of the bull of totalitarianism. But not every artist ends up being gored. There are those who thrive even in the age of authoritarianism by turning art into propaganda. And history, as is its wont, is repeating itself — as farce and tragedy.

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