March 23, 2022
At the onset, let me clarify: I haven’t watched The Kashmir Files, a fictional retelling of the true horrific mass exodus of Kashmiri Pandits starting in 1989, when close to 70,000 Kashmiri Hindu families fled the valley due to growing threats from militant, separatist outfits. I haven’t watched the film not because I believe the Indian state has done right by Kashmiri Pandits, or the many Kashmiris who’ve faced unimaginable armed violence from all sides. We Indians are all complicit in the decades-long repression of Kashmir and its people. But I’m not going to watch The Kashmir Files because I do not know how to watch a movie that delivers a concoction of events that is less historical fiction and more an election manifesto for the ruling government.
So this will not be a movie review. Nor will this analyze the film’s technical and narrative choices or its performances. We do know that since its release on March 11, 2022, the movie has netted close to ₹140 crores (around $18 million), a significant feat for a film starring no discernible “superstar.” The film is running almost tax-free in eight states led by Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) governments, helping its stellar earnings. And in the U.S., for a movie that does not pander to diaspora sentiment the way movies of Karan Johar or Yash Raj Films do, The Kashmir Files has crossed $2 million.
However, across movie theaters in India, audiences are responding to the film by openly fanning violence against Muslims. In one such video, a man is encouraging fellow moviegoers to coercively marry Muslim women in a bid to eradicate the community. A Twitter thread from journalist and AltNews founder Mohammed Zubair details eruptions after the movie’s screenings, with attendees chanting “desh ke gaddaro ko, goli maaro saalo ko” (“shoot the traitors of the country”), the slogan that BJP leader Kapil Mishra popularized in the days leading up to the Delhi riots of February 2020. Instead of introspection and calls for restorative justice, The Kashmir Files is all but encouraging mobilization against Muslims. So how did a film about a horrific exodus in Indian history usher in calls for communal violence?