'Hate-mongering garbage' The Kashmir Files actually makes more sense as India's Oscars entry than RRR. Here's why
Anurag Kashyap may disagree but Vivek Agnihotri's The Kashmir Files is a better choice for India's Oscars pick than SS Rajamouli's RRR.
Vivek Agnihotri and Anurag Kashyap are two filmmakers who sit on the opposite ends of the political spectrum in Bollywood. They were also two people known to speak their mind, often a bit too bluntly for most people’s liking. So when one makes a comment about the other’s film, sparks are bound to fly. In a recent interview, Anurag made a casual remark that he wouldn’t want Vivek’s The Kashmir Files to be India’s official entry for the Oscars, to which Vivek responded by claiming Anurag had tried to ‘sabotage’ his film. Political bickering aside, it raises an interesting question--why shouldn’t The Kashmir Files be considered for that Oscar pick? Also read: Anurag Kashyap comments on The Kashmir Files' Oscars bid, Vivek Agnihotri reacts
In the now-viral interview, Anurag spoke about why RRR was perfect as India’s entry to the Oscars. There is some basis to it. Everyone from James Gunn to Honest Trailers has raved about the SS Rajamouli blockbuster. The average American moviegoer is fascinated by it. RRR is to this decade what Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon was to the 2000s. Both are action films from the ‘East’ starring some of the biggest names from that industry, helmed by one of the foremost directors from the country, and both took America by storm in an unprecedented manner. China had seen other films like Crouching Tiger…, and India has seen the RRR template before. But to the West, this is all brand new. And that fascinates them enough to get this film an Oscar nod probably. But does that mean it should be India’s official pick? I think not.
RRR is simply not the best film Indian cinema has produced in the last one year. Just on cinematic merit--keeping aside popular sentiments--it may not be in the top ten. But The Kashmir Files might be. It is a good film on a a tragic episode of history that tugs at your heart strings. All qualities that Oscars have been known to be partial to.
The biggest charge against The Kashmir Files is that it’s a propaganda film. I’d say it’s unabashedly so. It presents a harrowing and cruel picture of what the Kashmiri Pandits endured in the Valley in the late-80s and early-90s. It does so with sensitivity, finesse, but not objectivity. As much as Vivek and the other players may believe and claim that it paints a true and honest picture, their bias shows. And that’s ok. All films have inherent biases of their makers. The Academy has previously recognised and honoured American war propaganda films like American Sniper and Zero Dark Thirty. They both had their agendas and biases, just like Vivek’s film does. Why should The Kashmir Files be any different?
There seems to be a misconception that a film that has a political agenda or one that does not fit the widely-accepted benchmark of objectivity cannot be a good film. Canadian filmmaker Dylan Mohan Gray called The Kashmir Files “hatemongering, revisionist garbage of no artistic merit”, adding that it would “be a further embarrassment to India” if the film is India's Oscars pick.
But the film’s political message often does not coincide with its technical finesse. A lot of us are making the mistake of assuming The Kashmir Files isn’t a good film just because it is something we don’t like. Personal preference and consensus is not always the same.
Several films that have been exponentially more vile and biased than The Kashmir Files have been hailed as ‘landmark’ and ‘seminal’ by cinephiles, simply because they were well-made films. The best example of this is DW Griffith’s Birth of a Nation. The 1915 release gave cinema several techniques that filmmakers still use today and is widely regarded as the first ‘great’ motion picture. That does not change the fact that the film is shameless white supremacist propaganda that defends slavery, glorifies the Ku Klux Klan, and depicts people of colour as vile rapists and murderers. Another case in point is the 1935 German film Triumph der Willens (Triumph of the Will). The film laid the groundwork for how future war films were made and again, gave several groundbreaking technical advancements to cinema. Yet, it was made by Leni Riefenstahl for Adolf Hitler’s Nazi propaganda machine. It is a hate crime masquerading as art.
The Kashmir Files is nowhere as repugnant as either of these films. I am not claiming it should be bracketed alongside them in either their bias or their finesse. The common thread between them is that films with known majoritarian biases can actually be well made. I do not agree with Vivek Agnihotri’s politics and views. I do not agree with some depictions of minorities in The Kashmir Files. But I still feel it is a well-made, impactful film that presents a grave human tragedy beautifully on screen. And it is also the kind of story that Oscars juries love--about tragedy and conflict, love and suffering, pain and longing.
There is one thing that Anurag Kashyap gets right. In his interview with Galatta Plus, he mentioned that if RRR is sent as India’s entry to the Oscars, there is a “90% chance” that it will get nominated, simply because America is so obsessed with the film. And he does have a point. Given its existing mainstream popularity, it will be easier to drum up support for the film. But I have a feeling that the Academy will end up giving one or two nods to RRR anyway, outside the Foreign Film category. It is a film that will take Indian cinema to the American living rooms like no other film before, and we need not push it in the foreign film category for that. Let a better-made film vie for that honour. In this debate it is The Kashmir Files.
But let’s not forget that films exist beyond these two as well. In the end, India may well end up sending a film other than two discussed here. After all, nobody has claimed these two are the only two frontrunners. I don’t see why a Malayankunju (Malayalam) or a Pawankhind (Marathi) should be out of contention in this debate. But as things stand, while we discuss RRR’s chances at the Oscars, let us not forget that The Kashmir Files, on cinematic merit alone, deserves to be considered for that as well, regardless of our own likes or dislikes.