Directed by: Ashvin Kumar
Written by: Ashvin Kumar
Starring: Soni Razdan, Kulbhushan Kharbanda, Zara Webb and Shivam Raina
Paradise on earth is how Kashmir is known the world over and ‘No Fathers in Kashmir’ does full justice to that description with some of the most stunning cinematography and haunting local folk melodies. It sets the canvas for Kumar’s hard-hitting coming-of-age tale about innocence, based on hundreds of true stories from the war-torn Valley.
Noor (Webb) returns to her birthplace of Kashmir with her single mother who is in search of closure to be able to start afresh with a new fiancé. What feels like a less-than-welcome journey for a stroppy teenager hooked to her smartphone turns into an impulsive phone documentary tour, as Noor gets drawn into the intricacies of Kashmiri life with the help of local teenage boy Majid (Raina). The duo soon strike up an enduring friendship as Noor introduces Majid to the wonders of social media in return for tours of hidden corners of the lush green Valley.
Through these escapades and with the help of her long-suffering grandparents (Razdan and Kharbanda), Noor soon begins to uncover some extremely troubling facts about her missing father and the many other missing fathers of the terror-hit region. A brutal encounter with the security forces turns the once innocent teenager, who arrived as an outsider just days earlier, into a hardened local herself who is destined to carry the wounds of her past with her forever.
Ashvin Kumar, the Oscar-nominated filmmaker who himself essays a key role of Arshid in the film, has created a stimulating piece of semi-fiction that does not pull any punches from showcasing some of the harsh realities of a region that has suffered from the India-Pakistan conflict for over 72 years. The Indian Army’s presence in Kashmir may be inevitable, but the film reflects the profound impact of this intrusion on the daily lives of the locals.
Webb, a young schoolgirl actor from the UK, is just the right mix of innocent and feisty teenager required for Noor, ably backed by Raina as a quiet boy just waiting to come out of his shell. The solid performances from veterans like Razdan and Kharbanda help create a sense of realism as they truly embody aspects of Kashmiri culture and dialect.
‘No Fathers in Kashmir’ has had chequered release history due to its controversial subject matter but several UK cities got access to its uncut version in February 2020 through screenings backed by Tongues on Fire, among other organisations.
Kumar’s declared goal with this film was to emotionally connect with the heart of Kashmir and he has definitely succeeded on that count.
- by Aditi Khanna, film buff and London-based journalist