The date when the film Shikara was released—February 7, 2020—may be an innocuous accident, but it acquires meaning when seen in the context of Kashmir, the subject of the film. It was seven months into what was widely seen as the “unlawful abrogation” of Article 370…months that seemed like an eternity, with a perpetual lockdown in place. It was a time when the heavy hand of politics came down on all aspects of life, heavier than before—an evisceration of fundamental rights impossible to imagine for non-Kashmiris, and traced directly by Kashmiris to the fact of being a Muslim-dominated province seeking a political voice. A film that sets out to bring alive the tragedy of the exiled Pandit community, then, was bound to be coloured by the circumstances of its release.
Was that all? Perhaps not. In an atmosphere of growing alienation, the fact is that a film such as Shikara can be used to further the popular Indian animus against Kashmiri Muslims. It may seem an odd thing to say about a film that had a rather troubled reception within certain Pandit quarters—for being too soft on Kashmiri Muslims!—but we have to exit the morass of social media debates at some point and address the real themes. Vidhu Vinod Chopra’s film—“dedicated to over 4,00,000 Kashmiri Pandit refugees”—doesn’t add anything new to the existing populist narrative; instead, it tries to legitimise it. Representation is a complex profession and, especially when dealing with “difference” (here Kashmiri Muslims), it engages feelings, attitudes and emotions, and mobilises anger and hatred, at deeper levels in the viewer.