Shikara's younglings Aadil Khan and Sadia play their parts with such innocence and turns of such gentle expressions on cue, that your heart instantly goes out to them.
Aadil Khan and Sadia in a still from Shikara
U/A: Drama, Romance
Director: Vidhu Vinod Chopra
Cast: Aadil Khan, Sadia
First things first. And this is just to get a niggling feeling off my chest, and something that persisted before entering the theatre. Given this is a film focused on the mass, forced exodus of 4,00,000 Hindus, primarily Pandits, that took place in Kashmir in 1990, during the height of terrorism/militancy in the Valley.
It's a deeply disturbing event/incident that dominates current Indian politics. Wherein anyone raising their voice against any other present-day atrocities is simply asked, "Where were you when the Kashmir Pandits lost their homes?" Well, since half of India's population is under 25, they were not born.
Fair portion of the remainder were kids. That we ought to know about the humanitarian crisis goes without saying. But how you say it to a public makes all the difference. Putting all doubts to rest, then—Shikara, while honestly sticking to facts, and sugarcoating none of the tragedy, is not a propaganda film.
And by which I mean it doesn't indulge in wholesale, blind demonising/dehumanising of the 'other', further deepening schisms, or reducing an issue to simplistic binaries of good versus evil, and fanning passions towards a political end. As one of the characters rightly puts it in this film, "Aag toh laga logay; bujha nahin paaoge (It's easy to light the fire; hard to extinguish it)!"
Check out the trailer of Shikara here:
Clearly the credit for that goes entirely to this film's measured writing, which sparkles in its equanimity. The credits are shared by director Vidhu Vinod Chopra, along with Abhijat Joshi (Lage Raho Munnabhai, PK, 3 Idiots), and author/journalist Rahul Pandita, whose non-fiction on the ethnic cleansing of Kashmiri Hindus, Our Moon Has Blood Clots, remains a critically acclaimed bestseller. And surely this couldn't have been an easy subject for Chopra himself, being a Kashmiri Hindu, who lost his family property to the crisis.
Sure terrorism, even in the name of religion, is a political issue. But good art bears the tendency to heal and reflect. What Chopra places at the centre of his film still is love. It makes it easier to shed light on hatred.
Shikara is firstly and in every way a romance, between the two lead characters who, along with grief of a lost home, share bliss of togetherness, and enduring hope. Younglings Aadil Khan and Sadia (who for some reason reminded me of Vidya Balan), play these parts with such innocence and turns of such gentle expressions on cue, that your heart instantly goes out to them. The music is soothing. As is the orphaned Valley, although lost to hardened bigotry from all ends, ever since the slide began in the late '80s, where the film starts from, rolling down to 2018, where the film ends—with the lead characters ageing, along with clouds of hopelessness over their original homeland.
Chopra knows how to tie in all of this with dispassionate skills of a smart storyteller/filmmaker. Folk of my vintage anyway have an eternal soft spot for him, chiefly as the director of Parinda (1989), which was such a breath of fresh air at a time when the quality of output in Bollywood was abysmally lower than the current standards of Indian politics.
But his finest film, in my books, still remains the one that he also shot in Kashmir—the stellar murder mystery Khamosh (1985). This is his return to direction after half a decade since the muddled Broken Horses, that appeared marred by global over-ambition. It's been well worth the wait. Shorn of frills, the minimalist Shikara is, without doubt, his most personal, earnest piece yet.