Starring Adil Khan, Sadia
Directed by Vidhu Vinod Chopra
Vinod Chopra is no stranger to the theme of love during the time of war. He walked down the same road in 1942: A Love Story with the incandescent Manisha Koirala and the buoyant Anil Kapoor riding the crest of romance on the wings of R D Burman’s timeless melody.
Now in Shikara, as Chopra returns to the theme with far less satisfying results than the enormity of the plot would suggest, the music is not quite the stuff epic dreams are made of.
Think about it. 60,000 families were rendered homeless overnight. Forced to flee from their homes, Kasmiri Hindus were left with only their memories. Some like Shiv, the hero of Shikara, were lucky to have their life partners with them as they struggled to come to terms with their lives as refugees in their own country.
It is an idea so immense in its political and emotional scope that it would take a filmmaker of epic ineptness to mess it up. Fortunately, Vinod Chopra is not that filmmaker. He handles the subject with the delicacy and sensitivity it deserves. But the narrative and its high points lack the emotional impact and the spiritual sustenance of other similar films on a mass exodus like M S Sathyu’s Garm Hawa and Deepa Mehta’s 1947 Earth.
Chopra’s heart is in the right place. He has been through the hell that Kashmiri Hindus faced when they were bullied out of their own homes. The film simply fails to convey the same emotional heft that the director undoubtedly feels. Perhaps he preferred a mellow calm approach to a slice of history when savagery turned the local people into two polarized communities. He also prefers to name no politicians who influenced the “cleansing” of Kashmir except George Bush and Benazir Bhutto.
Kashmir burnt. Politicians played their games. Vinod Chopra knows what politics did to Kashmir. But he is on his own trip. He is that child at a party who would rather bawl for the busted balloons than howl for the broken dream.
Many of the scenes showing overnight evacuation of an entire community are theoretically ticking bombs. They end up as fizzle-free Diwali crackers.
The narrative takes us from Adil and Sadia’s wedding and marital bliss to the nightmare of being chased out of their private paradise. The two newcomers try hard to infuse genuine feelings into their characters. To an extent, they succeed. But as their shared journey through unmoored life proceeds, the situations in the plot get tediously unconvincing, as though once the forced migration happens there is little left to say. As the pair gets older they get hammier.
Instead of taking a strong political stand condemning those elements that precipitated the displacement of Kashmiri Hindus, Chopra’s ode to the homeless prefers to take the pacific route espousing peace instead of vendetta. There is blood on the walls of Kashmir. But Chopra, in all his wisdom chooses to look away. When he does allow the protagonist Shiv to explode it is more a poet’s lament than a man’s anguished battle cry. There is very little passion here. In a scene straight out of an R K Narayan novel, a calf is left behind by refugees.
Shooting on real locations certainly adds to the credibility of Shikara. But there are too many contrivances in the plot, like the old man at the refugee camp constantly whining about going back to his home, or a Kashmiri Muslim turning up at the camp to ask Shiv to sell his home, the visitor wears Shiv’s assassinated brother’s coat. Small world. Coat, unquote.
Shikara means well. And passages, such as the one showing Shiv and his wife returning to Kashmir under tragic circumstances, are filmed with feeling. But on the whole the epic scope of the theme, the full impact of such a shameful chapter from Indian history, is largely sanitized, blow-dried and hung in the sun to try for too long.
Try as I might I couldn’t bring myself to feel that intense empathy for the protagonist that director Vinod Chopra wants us to. James Cameron apparently thinks Shikara is a masterpiece. Sorry, Mr. Cameron, I can’t agree with you.