Bollywood film Shikara ignited a lot of hype, agitation and mixed reviews from all over. I finally decided to watch the movie myself and share an honest, unbiased and critical review.
The movie, as we all know, is directed by Vidhu Vinod Chopra (the director of Mission Kashmir), who promoted the movie as the Untold Story of Kashmiri Pandits.
If taken at a face value, Shikara is a great film to watch. Beautifully shot, enchanting music, especially the wedding song, and most importantly a mesmerizing plot that keeps you hooked to the screen.
The lead actors, especially Sadia, does a very good job. She looks and acts like a typical Kashmiri Pandit girl and essays the role of Shanti to near perfection.
So, why are Kashmiri pandits furious after watching Shikara? Where has the movie gone wrong and what could Vidhu Vinod Chopra have done to add more weight to the movie script? Why does Shikara fail to achieve Missions Kashmir – i.e. to highlight the cause of Kashmiri Pandits?
1. Ignored The Bloody Exodus Of Kashmiri Pandits
Over five lakh Kashmiri Pandits were forced, almost overnight, to leave their homes, packing whatever they could, to escape the genocidal campaign unleashed by the Islamic radicals.
Kashmir resonated with anti-India and anti-Hindu slogans – “Oh merciless, oh infidels, leave our Kashmir”; “If you want to stay in Kashmir, you have to say Allahu Akbar”; “We want Pakistan, along with Hindu women but not their men.”
The pious Mosques became the nerve centre for terror activities in Kashmir. The law and order situation collapsed; kidnappings, killings, and rapes became rampant. Terrorist organizations like the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) and Hizb-ul Mujahideen issued open threats to Kashmiri Pandits. They were given three choices – convert to Islam, leave Kashmir, or perish.
On 4 January 1990, Srinagar-based newspaper Aftab released a message, warning all Hindus to leave Kashmir immediately. On 14 April 1990, another Srinagar-based newspaper named Al-Safa republished the same warning. Both the warnings came from Hizbul Mujahideen.
Walls were pasted with posters with threatening messages to all Pandits to steadfastly follow the Islamic rules which included abidance by the Islamic dress code, complete ban on alcohol, cinemas, and video parlors and stringent restrictions on the movement of Kashmiri women.
Prominent Kashmiri Pandits were murdered in cold blood, women were gruesomely raped, houses were turned to ashed, hospitals refused to treat the injured and the neighbors became informants of the militants or picked up the guns themselves.
Pushed against the wall, the minority Kashmiri Pandits fled the valley, almost overnight. Half a million Pandits were displaced, marking the largest-ever exodus since India’s partition in 1947. By the end of 1990, all of Kashmir was almost cleansed of Pandits.
Vidhu Vinod Chopra could have covered more in the limited time he had, however, he intentionally decides to close his eyes and stay away from the brutal realities.
2. Jammu Refugee Camps
The Indian Government established camps in Jammu post the exodus of Kashmiri Pandits. The camps were an ideal model of inhuman and apathetic treatment meted out to a civilized community reduced to the abominable status of refugees.
The KP refugees were dumped in the camp and left to fend for themselves. No person of any significance really visited or stayed in the camp so that the frightful conditions of the camps could be improved.
The tents were torn to shreds and the sun and rains have been great tormentors for the inhabitants. The camps were worse than a slum. Heaps of dirt and garbage with foul and stinking smells engulfed the refugee camps.
The latrines were abominably filthy and over-flowing. In some tents, more than one family could be seen huddled together. If a family chooses to move out of the tent to rented accommodation, the Relief Agencies score it off their registers and stop their meager allowance on which most of them eke out an existence.
The camps were literal death-holes, the residents afflicted with varied diseases and ailments as a result of challenging surroundings. Many young men and women died prematurely and could not be saved for want of proper medical treatment. Scores fell prey to sun-strokes (as they were not used to living in such high temperatures) while many more died from snake bites.
Vinod Chopras almost ends up depicting the camps as a pleasant place as the protagonists decided against leaving the ‘Happy Camps’. If the exodus was brutal, living in Jammu camps was even worse.
3. The Killing Of Nurse
Vidhu Vinod Chopra brings the character of nurses in the movie which had an uncanny resemblance with a KP nurse (Sarla Bhat) who was kidnapped and brutally murdered.
Sarla Bhat, working as a resident nurse at the Sher-i-Kashmir Institute of Medical Sciences in Soura, Srinagar was abducted from her hostel. After four days, her mutilated body was found in an area downtown. Sarla Bhat was abducted, gang-raped murdered and body mutilated.
A handwritten note was attached to it, describing her as a police informant. Sarla Bhat was in her mid-twenties. After her body was handed over to her father, Shambu Nath Bhat, in Anantnag, was not even permitted to carry out the last rites during her cremation. It was a rushed affair as the militants had ordered the people in the locality to keep away from the family.
Vinod Chopra lacked the courage to show the gruesome reality on the big screen but did make an indirect reference.
4. Kid Sloganeering
Vinod Chopra shows a young boy talking about building a temple and sloganeering against the Mosque. The clearly depicts that young KP boys were getting somewhat radicalized in the Jammu camps until a noble soul – Shiv Kumar steps in and counsels the students.
However, to this date, there is not even a single case of a retaliatory attack / malicious campaign by a Kashmir Pandit on a fellow Muslim as KP’s only focussed in educating their children rather than inciting violence and hate.
As SK Koul writes, despite facing the brunt of Islamic terrorism, the Kashmiri Hindu community remained an embodiment of patience, tolerance and perseverance. This community neither resorted to crime nor begged anyone for alms and neither retaliated against fellow Kashmiris, despite all the savagenesses.
We tolerated hardships and worked hard for our livelihood. We managed to educate our children and prepare them for the battle of life by picking up books and not stones or guns.
We never instilled in them the sense of revenge but inspired them to strive for excellence in all fields. We inculcated positive, constructive and patriotic values in their hearts which helped them to thrive in a hostile world.
Thankfully, Vinod Chopra ends up showing the sloganeering kid – Leader Ladru, as an eminent doctor.
5. Unrealistic End
Vinod Chopra beautifully concludes the movie by showing that Shiv Kumar Dhar returns to the Kashmir Valley and becamoes a teacher. The scene is very emotional especially after his wife succumbs in his arms while viewing the glorious Taj Mahal.
However, January 2020 marked the 30th year in exile for Kashmir Pandits and still, there is no sign of return. Kashmir Pandits are still raising their voices to seek active support from the Indian Government for their rightful rehabilitation which has been denied to them for over three decades.
As experts write – The Kashmiri Pandits are no political party’s vote bank as they are numerically irrelevant and extensively scattered a group with no political weight or economic clout. To the Muslim rulers of Kashmir they were the “agents” of India as Sheikh Abdullah –- Nehru’s secularist Kashmir hero — paints them in his biography, and to the New Delhi Sultans they are suspect because they are “Kashmiris” and not Indians. Thus the KP community is lost between the devil and the deep sea.
Vinod Chopra also deboarded the sinking ship of Kashmiri Pandits and instead preferred to woo the masses than please the now irrelevant Kashmiri Pandits. The Mission Kashmir is yet to be achieved!
Penned By A Kashmiri Pandit In Exile. Views Personel. Inputs From Innumerable Articles Penned On Kashmiri Exodus.