cast: Aadil Khan, SadiaDirector: Vidhu Vinod Chopra
Shikara, by director-producer Vidhu Vinod Chopra’s own admission is a love letter to Kashmir dedicated to the memory of his mother Shanti Devi who like multitudes of Kashmiri Pandits could not return home due to the insurgency that began in the eighties, ultimately resulting in a mass exit in January 1990.
It certainly is Chopra’s most personal film and perhaps for those reasons, the most sensitive one too.
The film opens with an elderly Kashmiri couple heading to Agra on an invitation by the American President who is on a visit to India. However, as scenes unfurl we realize President is just a ruse, almost a metaphor of their lives of an elusive almost fantastical desire which will never quite fulfill itself in entirety.
Shanti (Sadia) and Shiv Kumar Dhar’s (Aadil Khan) life is one of love. Shiv, is a man of letters, a poet and scholar, while Shanti, a doting wife. Theirs is an idyllic life in the most beautiful places in the world, namely Kashmir. Unfortunately, as their bonds of love strengthen, things begin to turn ugly in the valley.
What you see at the outset in the film is a general bonhomie between people of different faiths but as the film progresses, the fault lines begin to appear until lives are torn apart and destroyed. Among the few films to tell the story of the exodus of Kashmiri Pandits from the valley triggered by the infiltration of extremists from neighbouring Pakistan, Shikara steers away from framing the politics of the region. Instead, it dwells on the personal journey of Shanti and Shiv from the first flush of love to the twilight years. Their transition from a perfect home in Kashmir to a refugee camp in Jammu, they witness love and betrayal in equal measure.
Written by Vidhu Vinod Chopra, Abhijat Joshi, and Rahul Pandita, the beauty of the film lies in its handling of ordinary lives put through extraordinary circumstances, torn asunder from their very roots without quite knowing the reason why. Keeping away from the aggressive narratives and optics led by armed conflicts, this one is a grieving of quietude. It mourns the unravelling of Kashmir’s close-knit social fabric comprising of all faiths. There are moments in the film —like the time when Shiv meets a stranger wearing his own relative’s (Priyanshu Chatterjee) coat, persuading Shiv to sell his house in Kashmir—which are heart-wrenching. Fortunately, the cold shadows are driven away by the triumph of good–like when a small boy chanting incendiary mandir -masjid slogans eventually ends up as a leading neurosurgeon!
Visually, Shikara resembles a painting, a work of art with Rangarajan Ramabadran’s delicate cinematography accompanied by excellent production and costume design. The music by A.R. Rahman helps maintain the lilting tone suitable to a love story.
However, it is with Chopra wielding the director’s baton, where credit must rest for imbuing his labour of love with the element of authenticity; often a critical missing piece in Bollywood films. His choices for the lead cast, namely Sadia and Aadil Khan are impeccable. They slip into their characters of Shanti and Shiv adeptly, sensitive in their display of emotions, rarely slipping into a testosterone-driven frenzy.
Shikara, indeed is an empathetic memoir of the tragedy of Kashmiri people, one that gently points to love and forgiveness as the only way forward.
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