“Ae Wadi Shehzadi Bolo Kaisi Ho, Bin Tere Khali Hu Main, Kya Tum Bhi Waisi Ho”.

Written, produced, and directed by Vidhu Vinod Chopra, Shikara is essentially a love story set during the horrific exodus of Kashmiri Pandits in 1990. It follows a newly married Pandit couple, literature enthusiast Shiv Kumar Dhar (Aadil Khan), and his wife Shanti Dhar (Sadia) who live in Srinagar; in a house, they call Shikara. Their happy life soon turns upside down with Jammu and Kashmir plunged into conflict and Islamic militants baying for the blood of Kashmiri Hindus. On the threshold of losing everything they hold dear, the couple is forced to decide whether to flee their birthplace or stay behind and face a battle waged against their community.

The movie is set in the late 80s against the backdrop of growing communal tension in the picturesque Kashmir valley. This heartbreakingly beautiful cinematic piece aptly captures the fear and uncertainty in the hearts of the Kashmiri Pandit community as they suffer massive losses and are forced out of their homeland only to live as refugees in their own country.

While the filmmaker does not employ melodrama and sensationalism in the narrative, he fails to bring forward the harsh realities and the true plight of the Kashmiri Pandits. The movie does attempt to throw light on the insurmountable courage and resilience shown by the community in the face of adversity but it falls short. The somewhat clinical approach to the era fails to create as deep as an impact as it could.

Debutants Aadil Khan and Sadia are a good on-screen pair. Sadia with her infectious smile is a natural and Aadil’s portrayal of the older version of his character is refreshing. One of Sadia’s most memorable on-screen moment is when her character Shanti lights up with joy as she prepares Rogan Josh in their Srinagar house while she silently sheds tears when preparing the delicacy a second time at the refugee camp in Jammu.   

The narrative is more visually exciting and cinematically engaging in the first half while the second half is more invested in the protagonist couple’s love story itself. Rangarajan Ramabadran’s cinematography beautifully captures the changing landscape and mood. The background score, on the other hand, done by A.R. Rahman and Qutub-E-Kripa fits effortlessly into the scenes and adds layers to the narrative. The songs, written and composed by Sandesh Shandilya, Abhay Sopori, and Rohit Kulkarni are soulful and tug at your heartstrings with their touching lyrics and calming music.

One particularly touching scene occurs during the end- credits when a young boy walks up to Shiv and mentions that he has never seen a Kashmiri Pandit before, which highlights a torn community and the painful aftermath of the horrific bloodshed.

‘Shikara’ subtly questions the lack of proper and adequate governmental response to the plight of the displaced Pandits. It also highlights the fact that political parties have taken minimal steps towards the well-being of the Pandits and the steps taken are merely for selfish purposes and personal gains. Rather than pointing fingers, the movie leaves the viewers to themselves question the inaction. While the movie beautifully depicts the pain and trauma of being torn away from one’s home, it pointedly steers clear of political realities and the true extent of violence and hostility which has plagued the valley for years.

To sum up, the movie underlines a sense of perennial optimism and love that withstands the test of time, war, and conflict. Despite its inaccuracies and loopholes, the movie is a good watch thanks to two factors- one, the beautifully unfolded romance and two, the poignant story of the injustice faced by the Pandits who never ceased to love their homeland.

Bhavya Nayak, Delhi Public School, Noida

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