Bollywood film The Kashmir Files has been a massive success despite being mired in controversy. The film directed by Vivek Agnihotri has been facing criticism on social media for apparently being a nationalistic project by the Indian government. As expected, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi had lauded the film, which revolves around the 1990 Exodus of Hindus from Kashmir when Pundits were killed by the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF). Critics are arguing about the very intent of the movie, which prevents the filmmaker from telling an unbiased version of history. It only shows the violence against Kashmiri Pandits and leaves out the suffering of Kashmiri Muslims. Critics debate whether this movie is another propaganda by the Indian government to appease the Hindutva extremists, who speak about eradicating the minorities from India.
The Kashmir Files Portrays Muslims as Villians
In order to prove Hindus as the victims of Muslims, they even used the poetry of a revolutionary poet Faiz Ahmed Faiz in a song. The poem here was used to validate that Hindu Pandits were the real oppressed and the majority of the Kashmir which happened to be Muslim was the oppressor.
Faiz composed this poem to protest against the military dictatorship of Zia Ul Haq in Pakistan in 1979. The artist Iqbal Bano renditioned it in a song in 1986 despite the ban of Faiz’s poetry. It was widely recognized as the anthem of the leftist resistance against the oppressive regime. Using such poetry in this context doesn’t just mean to show solidarity with the Kashmiri Pandits but to paint the Muslim locals of Kashmir as oppressors despite the fact that they were the real victims. Critics believe that such a move can only help distort facts to an already cloudy story. It will further polarize Indian society on the issue of Kashmir and increase that Hindu-Muslim divide.
Movie Fits Well with the Indian Government Narrative
The Kashmir Files came when Modi faced severe scrutiny due to the treatment of minorities in India. Since BJP came to power, the rising communal violence has threatened India’s secular status and made it a bigoted country for non-Hindus. There have been a series of attacks in various forms, where victims were mostly Muslims and other religious minorities like Christians and Dalits, who some Hindus consider a lesser caste.
Hindutva extremists and Sangh Parivar (a massive network of Indian nationalist groups) have been striving to deteriorate Hindu relationships with religious minorities. The current Hijab row going on in India is one example of that. Moreover, during Christmas 2021, reports of attacks on the Christian minority were coming from all across the country. The BJP led Indian government has also been trying to establish Muslims as a threat to people in Assam. Meanwhile, it has been assimilating Assamese culture with its own nationalist agenda. The primary reason BJP has been successful in the election is building anti-Muslim rhetoric. Therefore, it continues to do that through politics and sometimes Bollywood movies.
The Kashmir Files tries to validate the misinformation being spread by the Indian government against Muslims and other minorities. It’s true that some pundits did face violence and had to migrate, but the number of their deaths is contested. The movie claimed that the number was 4000, which was not confirmed by any government or local record. Counter voices challenged the facts shown in the film and explained how the actual number is unclear according to different sources.
It means that filmmakers took such a step to divert attention from actual facts, history and the real Kashmir issue by focusing only on Pandits and spreading misinformation, undermining a genuine human rights issue.
Encouraging More Hatred Towards Muslims
Those in favour of the movie have used bigotry and misogynistic language to express their hatred towards Muslims. After the credits rolled, a video showed a Hindutva extremist addressing the audience with a violent speech against Muslim women. Triggered by the film’s theme, he suggested Hindus marry Muslim women and produce Hindu babies so that the Muslim population can be controlled. He said that while we watched movies, Muslims were at home making babies and increasing their strength in numbers.
The message at the film’s core tells ordinary Hindus not to trust the Left, the Muslims, and the Secularists. On the other hand, the right-wing elements have been openly suggesting that the masses kill Muslims and other minorities in India to make it a Hindu-only nation and give up its secular status. They are organizing full-fledged marketing campaigns to sell it as a movie that promotes nationalism. It shows that filmmakers are trying to tell that India belongs to only one community, and raising a voice for marginalized communities is anti-national.
Bollywood As A Propaganda Machine for Ruling Party
Kashmir Files is not the first film that promotes Indian nationalism through the lens of Hindutva. Since Modi came to power in 2014, Bollywood cinema has been used as a propaganda tool to further government rhetoric. Some movies glorify BJP’s policies, some vilify opposition members and past prime ministers, and others blatantly disrespect specific communities other than Hindus. For instance, Uri: Surgical Strike flexes India’s muscle against Pakistan; Toilet: Ek Prem Katha dramatizes BJP’s drive to clean up Indian streets; and The Accidental Prime Minister mocks former PM Manmohan Singh and Congress members, including the Gandhi family.
Bollywood also has an entirely separate category of anti-Muslim films. Filmmakers reinforce false narratives in these movies and keep portraying marginalized communities as villains who are already facing violence. Most representations of Muslims in Bollywood movies are either absurd or not well thought out. Muslim characters often appear as villains or others and always remain in the lower spotlight than Hindu characters. For example, in Padmaavat, a fictional version of the 13th Century Delhi Sultan Ala Ud-Din Khilji was portrayed as an evil Muslim character. He fell in love with the Hindu queen of the Rajputs, who were shown as innocent. He attacked her kingdom in hopes of marrying her, but the queen burned herself to deny him that privilege.
Interestingly, the film received backlash from Muslims and Hindus both. Muslims criticized it for twisting history, and Hindu supremacists attacked it for showing Muslims as too powerful over Hindus. Many other films push a similar narrative, including Tanhaji, Sooryavanshi, and Panipat.