The Hindu (Mumbai)

Yami Gautam steers explainer on the govt.’s Kashmir policy

Released in an election year, Aditya Suhas Jambhale’s film milks historical events according to the political narrative set by the ruling dispensati­on; it is in a hurry to present as a masterstro­ke a decision whose longterm impact is yet to pan out

- Anuj Kumar

As audiences warm up to the election season, filmmakers have begun their share of canvassing. The first out of the block is Article 370,a persuasive sarkari explainer on the government’s Kashmir policy that led to the abrogation of the contentiou­s constituti­onal provision on August 5, 2019.

These are recent events and very much in the public memory, but the makers’ goal seems to be to take the audience into confidence about what led to the end of the special status of Jammu & Kashmir before the ruling party goes to the polls.

Like a fancy PowerPoint presentati­on backed by a thumping background score, director Aditya Suhas Jambhale efficientl­y joins the dots that often get lost in the din of electronic news channel debates. The timing of the release doesn’t seem like a coincidenc­e. Aditya Dhar’s Uri (2019) efficientl­y dramatised what went behind the surgical strike against Pakistan after the Uri attack of 2016. That film was also released in an election year. Dhar is a coproducer and cowriter of Article 370 and his better half and competent actor Yami Gautam leads the team here as intelligen­ce officer Zooni Haksar. A Kashmiri Pandit, who has a personal grudge against the corrupt political leadership of the State, Zooni is strategica­lly positioned to peddle the us vs them narrative.

The writers milk the historical events according to the political narrative set by the ruling dispensati­on. So Jawaharlal Nehru’s alliance with Sheikh Abdullah was flawed but the film keeps mum on the takeaways of the BJP’s coalition government with the Jammu & Kashmir People’s Democratic Party.

While Uri had the license to go jingoistic, here the subject demands a little more nuance and Jambhale resists tonal exaggerati­on. The film smartly weaves into the narrative how backchanne­l diplomacy has become passe and the trusted methods of negotiatin­g with the separatist­s and double agents to buy temporary peace in the Valley have become outdated.

Pragmatic approach

More importantl­y, it talks of the business of terrorism and conflict economy to expose the moral ambiguity of the separatist movement and the local political leadership. There is no attempt to see Delhi’s role in this matrix but the pragmatic approach to look at the problem works and gives heft to the story.

But in its effort to demonise the Kashmiri leadership, the film reveals a lot about their erstwhile friends in Delhi. For those who choose to see, it gives the impression that the present dispensati­on chose to pick technicali­ty over constituti­onal morality on the Kashmir issue. And that human rights violations are an option for its officers. All the talk of providing reservatio­n to the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes sounds hollow for a film that sees Kashmir as an integral part of India invests very little in depicting Kashmiris as people with flesh and blood. They are presented as opportunis­tic parasites for whom 370 was an article of faith, literally.

Seasoned performer Raj Zutshi plays a political figure that seems like a cross between Farooq and Omar Abdullah with a diabolic flourish. Similarly, the everreliab­le Divya Seth turns Mehbooba Mufti into a quiet manipulati­ve monster. In contrast, Arun Govil, making an impactful comeback, adds graces and gravitas to the character of the PM. Kiran Karmarkar, as the Home Minister, is an answer to the theatrics of Zutshi.

Those who propagate the official narrative often lament about how the ecosystem hasn’t changed despite the power shift. Here the makers have attempted the methods of the socalled ‘system’ to put its point through.

Two-woman show

The idea of two women, in control of their emotions, leading the charge is interestin­g. And, Yami and Priyamani — as the determined deputy secretary in the Prime Minister’s Office — consistent­ly deliver the goods. Yami, in particular, internalis­es a combustive character that is struggling to save her purpose from a process that is not delivering the intended results. But after a point when the film reduces to just a twowoman show, the proceeding­s become increasing­ly simplistic and similar to oneman armies that used to populate the Bollywood landscape. It seems the makers want to bypass the democratic ethos even in the dramatised parts.

Article 370 is currently running in theatres.

 ?? YOUTUBE/JIO STUDIOS ?? Delivering the goods: Yami Gautam plays intelligen­ce officer Zooni Haksar.
YOUTUBE/JIO STUDIOS Delivering the goods: Yami Gautam plays intelligen­ce officer Zooni Haksar.

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