No Fathers in Kashmir

 

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A heart-felt film well meant but often ill-judged.

 
No Fathers in Kashmir

  

I desperately wanted to like this film because of what it sets out to do. Its aim is to bring to the world's attention the horrifying conditions that exist in Kashmir and have done so for years despite the fact that, in contrast to such conflicts as those between Israel and Palestine, the facts are little publicised. It is a recognised fact that in this divided land torn between control by India and Pakistan, and indeed China too, many thousands of Kashmiri Muslims have been killed by Indian forces and by militant organisations. Civilians have been amongst those targeted and, in an echo of those notorious events between 1976 and 1983 in Argentina, many men in Kashmir have become known as 'the disappeared'.

 

Ashvin Kumar is the key man behind No Fathers in Kashmir since in addition to taking a leading role, he has written, directed and produced it. His intention was to make Kashmir's tragic history better known by making a film that would appeal to a wide audience (it comes close to being a love story centred on two teenagers) while also using it to bring out the facts that have become a concern for human rights bodies, albeit being less widely known than one would expect. Nothing could be more honourable and, indeed, brave since, regardless of it boasting a plot of popular appeal, the film has been the subject of censorship issues in India.

 

Although Kumar has made other films, most of them have been short pieces or documentaries and that may to some extent explain the impression given that No Fathers in Kashmir is the work of an inexperienced filmmaker. The story he has created concerns 16-year-old Noor (Zara Webb) who becomes close to 14-year-old Majid (Shivam Raina) when her mother (Natasha Mago) brings her out to Kashmir from England to live with her grandparents (Kulbhushan Kharbanda and Soni Razdan). Noor soon discovers for the first time that both her father and Majid's father are among the disappeared and are in fact dead. The two of them had indeed been best friends and had also been close to somebody who has survived, Arshid (this being Kumar's own role). The youngsters seek out the burial place which is hidden away deep in a forest but they are intercepted by Indian army men and are arrested (Noor's habit of taking photos adding to hostility over their presence there).

 

Such a story could have been an effective way of putting across the threat that exists to those trying to live peacefully in Kashmir today. So it is unfortunate that Kumar frequently fails to make the events depicted feel authentic (many details in the tale fail to ring true and Kumar is not the clearest of storytellers, especially when it comes to conveying the complex motivation of Arshid). His direction is questionable too - it goes in for fussy gestures including montage sequences (the worst of these is one which feels utterly melodramatic when Noor's camera is being destroyed and it is linked directly to a reprise of the photographs within it that are being lost). That the narrative is so often so unpersuasive cuts right across the ability of the film to bring home tellingly the truth about life in Kashmir.

 

MANSEL STIMPSON

 

Cast: Zara Webb, Shivam Raina, Ashvin Kumar, Kulbhushan Kharbanda, Soni Razdan, Anshuman Jha, Maya Sarao, Sushil Dahlya, Natasha Mago.

 

Dir Ashvin Kumar, Pro Ashvin Kumar, Screenplay Ashvin Kumar, Ph Jean-Marc Selva and Jean-Marie Delorme, Pro Des Sylvain Nahmias, Ed Abhro Banerjee, Thomas Goldser and Ashvin Kumar, Music Loïk Dury and Christophe 'Disco' Minck, Costumes Ritu Kumar.

 

Alipur Films-Miracle Communications/Alipur.
108 mins. UK. 2018. Rel: 24 January 2020. Cert. 15.