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"No Fathers in Kashmir" - A War Movie Beyond Battle Lines

“We wiped the history of our people with our own hands”

It’s one of those lines that really makes you listen. Even with the scores of movies, tv shows and videos being released daily all over the world, there’s very few movies that leave you with a fist wrapped around your heart. “No Fathers in Kashmir” is one of those cinematic gems - the ones that can make you cry without realising and take you so deep into its characters that you find yourself wishing they’d jump out of the screen so you could meet them. The movie was shown at SOAS, University of London as part of a panel discussion event to highlight the crisis in the Kashmir region.

Beyond its on-screen brilliance, “No Fathers in Kashmir” is a movie that holds a much deeper, much darker message. Most of us in our part of the world are aware of the Kashmir issue that our region has battling over for decades, and of the crisis that has been gripping the valley especially in the last few months. We are exposed to headlines, bulletins, fancy journalistic jargon and politicians fighting over our screens whenever a new development takes place. Then all the media hype dies down and for everyone outside Kashmir, the harsh realities seem to be forgotten until the cycle begins again.

The SOAS Pakistan Society Team along with the Panelists of the Event

“No Fathers in Kashmir” is a story that creeps out from under all that noise. But make no mistake, it is nowhere near quiet. Beautifully blending fictional characters with the very stark reality of events, the movie highlights the area’s intense militarisation, the impact of different strands of religion on its people, and the families that are broken forever amidst an innocent friendship between two teenagers.

Mostly seen from the eyes of Noor, a British-Kashmiri who comes back to her native land for the first time, we are reminded of just how much we all really are outsiders, no matter the connections we try to make. The difference between her and Majid - the local boy who befriends her - is stark in everything they do. From Noor’s freedom to take pictures of everything she sees and her stark defiance of the Indian army’s control that locals have all but succumbed to, to their differing definitions of ‘terrorist’ and ‘militant,’ Kashmir’s reality is one its outsiders can never dream of understanding.

Mirza Saaib Bég, a Kashmiri lawyer, summed it up in the discussion that followed the movie.  ‘Kashmir lies outside the moral and legal compass of India.’ And that is exactly what this movie, in all its nuances, depicts perfectly. It does the one thing Indian media has yet to do - to show the real impact of the Indian army and move away from the heroic persona the mainstream Indian narrative has thrust upon them.

Watching the movie was a reminder of who war really impacts. It was the first time I had heard the terms ‘Half-widow” and ‘Half-orphan’. Families and family members who are left as only halves of themselves when war is finally done with them. The Kashmiri people have had to do everything they can to survive. Their first instinct after losing a family member to the ‘disappearances’ that have become so common is to get rid of every single shred of evidence they have of that person. That’s where the quote at the beginning comes from. War has impacts far beyond the corpses it leaves behind. Every character in the movie was beautifully scripted to show how so many different people get lost in the savagery of war. The movie also takes a distinctively feminist approach in its portrayal of war.

In the discussion that followed, the director Ashvin Kumar spoke about the 3.5 years it took for this film to finally come to completion. The discussion focused on how the turmoil in the area impacted shooting, and why the team thought it was so important to get this project done. It boils down to the one thing we need to focus on again and again, the need to give a voice for the voiceless. In doing so, the movie takes a distinctively feminist approach in its portrayal of war. It moves beyond the big war machines and corporations that reap the benefits and instead shows us the daily realities and the humanity behind the statistics. Not that there was much to be said after the movie ended. Art does speak for itself after all.

Images courtesy of: SOAS Pakistan Society

Cover Image: Official Movie Trailer Media

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