No Fathers In Kashmir movie cast: Zara Webb, Shivam Raina, Ashvin Kumar, Soni Razdan, Kulbhushan Kharbanda, Ayushman Jha, Natasha Mago, Maya Sarao, Sushil Dahiya
No Fathers In Kashmir movie director: Ashvin Kumar
No Fathers In Kashmir movie rating: Two and a half stars
Ashvin Kumar’s continuous engagement with Kashmir has been the focus of his documentaries, Inshallah Football and Inshallah Kashmir, both of which ran into trouble, predictably, with the CBFC.
No Fathers In Kashmir, also out after a prolonged battle with the CBFC, is a feature. Its characters are fictional, but the chief elements of the story are fact: one of the most troubling fall-outs of the long-drawn militancy and strife are the ‘half-widows’ and ‘half-orphans’, who are forced to live in shadow and perpetual doubt. Are the men alive, or dead?
You can see where the director has had to make changes, or underline certain facts: ‘in the 90s’, says a former-liberal-now-radicalised playing-both-sides-leader Arshid Lone (Kumar), ‘the army had interrogation rooms in army camps and sometimes they went too far’. The mention of the 90s implies that it doesn’t happen any more, but men have continued to be ‘picked up’ for questioning, who then ‘disappear’, leaving behind old parents, wives and children.
A fresh entrant helps No Fathers In Kashmir to ask questions in order to make the film relevant to audiences unfamiliar with the conflict. British-Kashmiri Noor (Webb) arrives with her mum (Mago) to visit her grandparents. She’s the kind of kid who’s grown up on the internet’s idea of Kashmir, that there are ‘terrorists’ roaming about on the streets and so on.
Local lad Majid (Raina), son of her missing father’s friend, becomes her passage into the terrifying realities of her ancestral land, as she goes about asking uncomfortable questions, or blithely clicking away with her phone camera, behaving like a naïve terrorism trail tourist.
The best thing about Kumar’s film is that the problems it outlines feel urgent, even if we’ve seen them before, especially and quite co-incidentally in the sudden spurt of films set in the valley which have released in the past few months.
Rows upon rows of women holding up placards of their missing fathers and husbands and sons: those faces break your heart. Stone-pelting young boys. Armed forces as the aggressors and the victims: an army major (Jha) is given this line: ‘give me an enemy I can see.. you think I like doing this? Interrogations?’
It’s clear where Kumar’s sympathies lie, but the portrayal of his own character is a bit muddled. We see processions raising ‘azaadi’ slogans, but having to do a balancing act, where you speak for both sides, takes some of the edge and complexity off the movie. Kulbhushan Kharbanda’s old man, living with the memories of his son, lays the roots of the militancy squarely on the ‘petro-dollars and mosques and madarsas from Saudi. He asks, and we hear: ‘from what are you seeking freedom? And what will you do with it?’ Kharbanda’s craggy face, underlined with pain, stay with you. As does Soni Razdan’s quiet, effective performance, as a wife, mother, grandmother. Sarao, so effective in Aankhon Dekhi, plays a woman trying to look out for herself and her son. Does she sell shawls, or herself? Watch out for the wonderfully authentic costuming and detailing, all down to the director’s designer mother, Ritu Kumar.
Both Webb, as a faintly annoying but earnest young girl determined to unearth the secrets surrounding her family, and Raina, whose delivery of his English lines see-saws but who is perfect for his role, work well with each other, even if their passages are marked by a few situational twists which feel forced and contrived.
But the kids, overall, are all right. They leave us with hope. As one of them says, pointing down a hillside: ‘that way is home.’