Vivek Agnihotri and Anurag Kashyap are two filmmakers who sit on the other side of the political spectrum in Bollywood. They were also two people known to speak their minds, often a bit too blunt for most people’s tastes. So if one makes a comment about the other’s film, the sparks will fly out of their own accord. In a recent interview, Anurag casually commented that he wouldn’t want Vivek’s The Kashmir Files to be India’s official entry to the Oscars, to which Vivek responded by claiming that Anurag had tried to “sabotage” his film. Political bickering aside, it raises an interesting question: why wouldn’t The Kashmir Files qualify for that Oscar pick? Also read: Anurag Kashyap Responds To The Kashmir Files Oscar Bid, Vivek Agnihotri Responds
In the now viral interview, Anurag spoke about why: RRR was perfect as India’s entry for the Oscars. There is some basis for it. Everyone from James Gunn to Honest Trailers has been raving about SS Rajamouli’s 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 industry’s biggest names, at the helm of one of the country’s foremost directors. , and both conquered America in unprecedented ways. China had seen other movies 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 make this film a Oscar nod probably. But does that mean it should be India’s official pick? I do not think so.
RRR is simply not the best film Indian cinema has produced in the past year. It may not be in the top ten for its cinematic merit alone – aside from popular sentiments – it may not be in the top ten. But The Kashmir Files might. It’s a good film about a tragic episode in history that is close to your heart. All qualities known to have a penchant for Oscars.
The biggest charge against The Kashmir Files is that it is a propaganda film. I’d say it’s unabashed. It paints a harrowing and cruel picture of what the Kashmiri Pandits endured in the Valley in the late 1980s and early 1990s. It does so with sensitivity, finesse, but not with objectivity. As much as Vivek and the other players believe and claim it paints a true and fair picture, their bias shows. And that’s okay. All movies have inherent biases from their creators. The Academy has previously recognized and honored American war propaganda films such as American Sniper and Zero Dark Thirty. They both had their agendas and prejudices, just like Vivek’s movie. Why should The Kashmir Files be any different?
There seems to be a misconception that a film with a political agenda or one that does not meet the generally accepted standard of objectivity cannot be a good film. Canadian filmmaker Dylan Mohan Gray called The Kashmir Files “hateful, revisionist crap with no artistic merit,” adding that it would “embarrass India even more” if the film were India’s Oscars pick.
But the political message of the film often does not coincide with the technical finesse. Many of us make the mistake of assuming that The Kashmir Files isn’t a good movie just because it’s something we don’t like. Personal preference and consensus are not always the same.
Several movies that were exponentially meaner and more biased than The Kashmir Files were hailed by cinephiles as “landmark” and “seminal” simply because they were well-made movies. The best example of this is Birth of a Nation by DW Griffith. The 1915 release gave cinema several techniques that filmmakers still use and is widely regarded as the first “great” film. Still, the film is blatant white supremacist propaganda defending slavery, glorifying the Ku Klux Klan, and portraying people of color as despicable rapists and murderers. Another example is the 1935 German film Triumph der Willens (Triumph of the Will). The film laid the groundwork for how future war movies were made and again brought several groundbreaking technical advances to cinema. Still, it was created by Leni Riefenstahl for Adolf Hitler’s Nazi propaganda machine. It’s a hate crime disguised as art.
The Kashmir Files is nowhere more repulsive than both films. I’m not arguing that it should be placed next to them in their bias or their finesse. The common thread between them is that films with well-known majoritarian biases can actually be made well. I do not agree with the politics and views of Vivek Agnihotri. I disagree with some depictions of minorities in The Kashmir Files. But I still think it’s a well-made, impressive film that beautifully portrays a serious human tragedy on screen. And it’s also the kind of story 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 said that if RRR is sent as India’s entry to the Oscars, there is a “90% chance” of it being 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 gain support for the film. But I have a feeling the Academy will eventually give a nod or two to RRR, outside of the Foreign Film category. It’s a film that will bring Indian cinema to American living rooms like no other film, and we don’t need to put it in the foreign film category for that. Let a better-made film compete for that honor. This debate is about The Kashmir Files.
But let’s not forget that there are also films outside of these two. In the end, India may send a different film than the two discussed here. After all, no one has claimed that these two are the only two frontrunners. I don’t see why a Malayankunju (Malayalam) or a Pawankhind (Marathi) should be out of the question in this debate. But as things stand, as we discuss RRR’s chances at the Oscars, let’s not forget that, for its cinematic merit alone, The Kashmir Files deserves to be considered for that too, regardless of our own. likes or dislikes.