Netflix’s latest release, the 2020 Indian film “Shikara,” based on the backdrop of the exodus of Kashmiri Pandits from Kashmir in the late 80s and 90s, draws inspiration from many places. For one, it narrates the horrid accounts of Kashmiri Pandits who were forced to leave their homes in fear of their lives, based on the real survivors’ accounts.
The movie is also partly inspired by the book “Our Moon Has Blood Clots” by Rahul Pandita. Most importantly, the producer/director Vidhu Vinod Chopra dedicates the film to his mother “Shanti”, who left Kashmir in 1989 and never returned. Chopra, who himself was born and grew up in Srinagar, Kashmir, was a first-hand witness to what transpired there after the Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) began a separatist insurgency for independence.
Debutants Sadia Khateeb and Aadil Khan play Shanti and Shiv Kumar Dhar, a young couple from Kashmir who find themselves in the eye of a cyclone during the insurgency. Shiv and Shanti meet as strangers during a film shoot in 1987 when they are asked to walk as a couple in a scene. Shanti is reading a collection of poems called “Shikara,” which is coincidentally written by Shiv.
The two fall for each other and with their parents’ consent, get married, and start a new chapter in their lives in a home they lovingly name “Shikara.” But around the same time, violence starts brewing in Kashmir. Within a year of their marriage, Shiv and Shanti have to flee from their home, leaving Shikara deserted, and spend the rest of their lives as refugees in their own country.
Despite its theme of politics gone violent, Shikara is not a harrowing political drama. It is actually a romantic film that focuses more on the lives and struggles of Shiv and Shanti than on the Kashmiri Pandit issue. Drifting from reality, the film has a lot less violence than what actually transpired and the plights of the Kashmiri Pandits have not really been voiced in the film. No wonder it got a bad rap for being soft and misrepresentative. Coming from a Bollywood veteran like Vidhu Vinod Chopra, who in a way is also a victim of the insurgency, the storytelling in Shikara is criminally underwhelming.
Still, the acting, background music, and aesthetics make it enjoyable for the audience who are not looking for much depth in a movie. Debutants Khateen and Khan who play Shanti and Shiv respectively are beautiful to look at and also execute their roles convincingly. The supporting characters in Shikara do not get much significance and it's mostly Khateen and Khan projected on screen, which gives them enough time to display their brilliance.
But the actor duo also has to share screen space with the exquisite beauty of Kashmir. In Shikara, cinematographer Rangarajan Ramabadran uses almost every trick in the book to capture the mesmerizing beauty of Kashmir. And this is not just the lakes and mountains we are talking about. Ramabadran follows his characters through the narrow lanes and quaint suburbs of Kashmir, giving the audience more footage of the gorgeous valley.
The camerawork is further nourished by color-grading that is mostly kept warm, and adds an almost surreal atmosphere to some scenes. The visual tone maintained throughout the film makes it akin to a picturesque work of art on canvas.
Now to another gem in the film, the background music. While the original soundtracks of Shikara are not memorable enough, the background score adds girth to the already brilliant cinematography. Interestingly, the man from down south, A. R. Rahman, with his apprentice group Qutub-E-Kripa, creates interesting soundscapes to help narrate a story placed in the northernmost part of India. The use of ethnic Kashmiri music along with contemporary sounds works well for the film’s theme.
Who should watch it?
As mentioned before, Shikara is an aesthetically beautiful romantic drama. If you do not have a problem with how this film fails to represent the many atrocities faced by Kashmiri Pandits and does not even address the underlying issues of their exodus, you will enjoy Shikara like any other Bollywood film.