Article 370: Effective and entertaining fiction, propaganda , and dehumanisation

Karishma Jangid
New Update
Article 370

'Article 370' delves into the backstory of how Article 370 was abrogated in Jammu and Kashmir. Entertaining in bits, the film indulges in political and religious stereotypes, making it a frustrating watch.

“Sarhadon par tanav hai kya/ zara pata toh karo chunav hai kya?” Legendary poet Rahat Indori’s words still ring true. However, recently, another indicator of elections has emerged: political films. While political films are commonly released throughout the year, as elections draw near, we often witness a surge in films centered around recent events. For instance, prior to the 2019 elections, Aditya Dhar-directorial 'Uri' based on the Pulwama terrorist attack was released. Similarly, before the 2024 elections, we have ‘Article 370’ (also co-written and produced by Dhar).

Indian agent Zooni Haksar (Yami Gautam) is transferred to Delhi after her involvement in the encounter that led to the death of Kashmiri militant Burhan Wani, sparking unrest in Jammu & Kashmir. However, Joint Secretary to the Prime Minister's Office, Rajeshwari Swaminathan (Priyamani), recruits Zooni to assist the National Intelligence Agency (NIA) in the abrogation of Article 370, which granted special status to the state. The abrogation of Article 370, the revocation of the valley’s special status, and the division of the state into two union territories are events etched in recent history. Yet, it is disappointing that the film presents a narrative that exaggerates and diverges significantly from the collective memory of many.

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Article 370’s script is basic. There is very little that keeps you hooked. The first half of the film is dull with Gautam’s unconvincing acting. Merely widening one's eyes is insufficient to convey anger; genuine expression and acting are necessary. Perhaps every actor was instructed to maintain a blank expression because even Priyamani, though performing better than Gautam, lacks expressions. Arun Govil and Kiran Karmarkar poorly caricature PM Narendra Modi and HM Amit Shah, respectively. Adding to the unimpressive acting is the irritating dark bluish colour palette commonly used for portraying Kashmir. The dialogues are disappointing as well. Many conflicts are resolved easily, with assumptions often substituting for proof, and basic realizations portrayed as epiphanies. The film tries too hard to look mysterious and tense when all it actually does is glorification. Despite its flaws, hope emerges after the interval when the second half shows some promise of being entertaining. However, it then follows the conventional route with a predictable and drawn-out climax, continuing to disappoint.

I can still excuse a badly made political film; we watch one in theatres every month, don’t we? But how do I excuse dehumanisation? You would expect that in a film based on the lives of Kashmiris, they would have some role in the film, right? They do. They are terrorists, stone-pelters, greedy politicians, misled militants, and corrupt bureaucrats who constantly use words like "Kafir" and "Al-Jihad". Not to forget, their saviour and also their vigilante is Zooni Haksar, a Pandit implying that Kashmiri Pandits, who have faced ethnic cleansing in the valley, are finally taking Kashmir back from the hands of those mentioned above. In a movie about altering the status of a state, you expect the population to be consulted. But we only consult people whose opinion we want. When you have assumed that the population is too naive to know what’s good for them, neglecting them to act as saviour becomes very easy. Either villainize them or patronise them. Be it “Khalistanis,” “Maoists,” or even the opposition, Article 370 assumes that whoever raises a concern is a threat and an enemy. In a period where censorship is at an all-time high, I wonder why this film feels so free to use these terms vaguely. Even Article 370 is not explained, it is simply criticised for being the root of all evil. Why does the protagonist feel so comfortable saying, “Dead body mat lautana (to the deceased’s family)” as if it's a virtuous thing to do?

When advocating for the abrogation of Article 370, Rajeshwari reproaches an official for speaking as though Kashmir isn’t an integral part of India, which it always has been. The film’s biggest hypocrisy and failure is that it doesn’t view Kashmiris as Indians. When the idea of abrogation is introduced in the Rajya Sabha, the PMO says, “India is celebrating.” But wasn’t Kashmir shut down with curfews due to Section 144?  After two weeks of abrogation, Kashmir is shown to be peaceful in the film, but as we know true peace still eludes the region due to recurrent shutdowns, curfews, and encounters. The internet shutdown persisted for nearly a year following the abrogation. These inconsistencies arise because the film lacks profound self-reflection. Perhaps it should have questioned: Who is the government saving in Kashmir and why? When you shut a thousand voices, is it still peace, or is it suffocation? Does violence suddenly become justifiable if perpetrated in the name of women's empowerment? Yet, if one remains preoccupied with self-congratulation, the notion of self-reflection may never arise. Hence, perhaps, it’s now up to the audience to conduct their research instead of taking political films at face value and hold empathy foremost irrespective of religion.

Events like Article 370 abrogation are events of national significance and surely, films will be and should be made. There will be conflicting views on all things political; that's how it works. However, in today's politically volatile climate, filmmakers hold the responsibility to know where the boundary between fact and fiction is. Films must be entertaining as well as empathetic about whatever subject they choose to represent. 

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