No Fathers in Kashmir (UK-India, 2019)

A story that needs telling

The cover up of the OPCW investigation into the alleged Syrian government’s gas attack in Douma is slowly being revealed (that is the attack never happened and the report into the attack was doctored) though I doubt that anyone, in the UK at least, who relies upon MSM knows this. Moreover I suspect most people wouldn’t care: for them it’s simply an example of scary things happening in far away places. The same could be said of the bombing of civilians in Yemen (in which the RAF is complicit) and the India government’s revocation of Kashmir’s special status last year. The latter is why Ashvin Kumar’s No Fathers in Kashmir (he wrote, directed, produced, starred and took other roles) is an important film. As Kumar said, in a post-screening Q & A (he’s doing a promotional tour in support of the film the producers are distributing themselves), the disputed territory is on the border between two nuclear powers: we should be interested! Such pieces as this on the BBC website show how important films can be in raising the profile of usually ‘forgotten’ issues.

Kumar leads us into the fraught state of Kashmir through the eyes Noor (newcomer Zara La Peta Webb), a British girl visiting her grandparents, and Majid (Shivam Raina, also new), a local lad who takes a fancy to her. It’s a good device but there are challenges in linking the personal to the political and too often the narrative strains credulity: the youngsters’ foolish walk into the hills for instance. It’s not that people in their position wouldn’t do such a thing, just that the motivation of the characters is not convincing enough.

Like Argentina in the 1970s, Kashmir is plagued by the ‘disappeared’: tens of thousands of people who are arrested by the Indian army and are never seen again leaving behind half-orphans and half-widows. Kumar plays Arshid, a devotee of Wahabism (I’m assuming as such due to the references to Saudi Arabia’s oil money), an extremist form of Islam which, according to the director, is on the increase in the region. This seems an example of the typical ‘blowback’ that occurs in such as situation: extremism increases as a reaction against the oppression leading to increased conflict.

The film is probably at its most effective with the way it emphasises the photographs Noor obsessively and unthinkingly takes, for social media, which lead to complications for Majid. Ashvin dramatises these with a rapid montage and a soundtrack full of electronic clicks. Again the film doesn’t quite convince because the although the Indian army insist on having Noor’s phone, and thus the photographs, they would likely already be in the ‘cloud’.

Directors’ Q & A in Bradford

Ashvin described how he managed to shoot such a ‘subversive’ film in Modi’s authoritarian India and how it was yanked from distribution after four weeks in his home country despite doing decent business. It took nine months to get it through the censors and only then after cuts; this screening was uncut. The world’s biggest democracy’s swing to the right is mirrored in a number of countries; including the UK whose government just voted not to reunite children with their refugee parents. It’s admirable that Kumar, and filmmakers like him, strive to give voice to those without power. Hence I’d recommend seeing the film, the cinematography by Jean-Marc Selva and Jean Marie Delorme shows how beautiful the former tourist attraction Kashmir is.