Hindi film “Kashmir files,” continues to stir many debates and controversies, not only in India, but globally, largely within the Indian diaspora, but also in countries like New Zealand, where the government finds itself sucked into the ongoing social, cultural and intellectual convulsions played out mainly on social media.

The movie portrays the painful story of violence meted out to Kashmiri Hindus that was a minority in the Indian state of Kashmir by the foreign-sponsored insurgency, which resulted in a massive exodus and displacement of an otherwise influential community.

However, in the process it had on one hand reignited the scars and deep wounds of the Kashmiri Hindus and simultaneously on the other is creating some fear and apprehensions in a section of Muslims in India, who believe the current emotionally charged social atmosphere was not suited for a ‘creative pursuit’ like this.

Considering this, it is pertinent to look at the different kinds of debate stirred by the runaway success of this film, both within and outside India.

NZ mulling to censor (or ban?) the film

Many would have been surprised to note that the movie has created a controversy in a country located as remotely as New Zealand, after being successfully allowed to be screened in most countries of North America, Europe, the United States and in neighbouring Australia without a hitch.

However, NZ is mulling whether to take some action on the upcoming screening based on concerns raised by some quarters that the movie may incite Islamophobia, potentially posing a threat to law and order.

The political opposition has been quick to grab the issue under one of the most sacrosanct cornerstones of a modern liberal democracy – the freedom of speech – and has begun to corner the government to decide against any sort of censorship.

While a decision is awaited, opinions are divided, with the supporters of the movie asking for a legitimate right to showcase the movie which has portrayed the pain of Kashmiri pandits for being forced to flee their ancestral homeland in Kashmir due to the sudden rise of the foreign-sponsored insurgency and communal discord in the Indian state of Kashmir in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

Those opposing the broadcasting of this movie in New Zealand are raising the issue that this movie will incite Islamophobia in the country and potentially threaten social harmony.

Clearly, it would seem the government has been sucked into controversy inadvertently, by being seen as taking sides in a highly volatile foreign international dispute – particularly when the movie has been screened elsewhere in the world, including Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States without any reported social discord or law-and-order issues. There is no reason to suggest that this would not have been the case in New Zealand as well.

Charge of nepotism in Bollywood

The movie’s runaway success within Indian masses and that of the global Indian diaspora has given the director Vivek Agnihotri the much-needed ammunition to lay charges of nepotism in Bollywood.

In the last few years, Bollywood as an industry and some of the widely accepted bigwigs including successful producers, directors, and movie stars of previous decades have taken on a lot of criticism for running the industry like personal fiefdoms, mainly stifling fresh and outside talent to promote their own kith and kin in the industry.

The massive success of this movie has led Agnihotri to double-up on that charge on Bollywood’s elite players suggesting that his hitherto less-than-optimal success in Bollywood was a result of some sort of collective conspiracy by all leading and successful actors, directors, producers, and distributors of the industry.

This charge is widely supported on India’s social media, with massive support alike from commentators and trolls, who are supremely convinced in their minds that everything in pre-2014 India was morally, politically, socially corrupt hence worthy of complete annihilation.

Kashmir Files’ success is raking up that issue in India and the wider global Indian diaspora. 

This controversy further sits within a larger and bigger intellectual convulsion going on in contemporary India.

Charge of convoluted linkages between India’s intelligentsia and previous political elites

If there is one biggest and all-encompassing controversy that the movie Kashmir Files rakes up, it is the issue of vehement criticism of India’s erstwhile intelligentsia, including the section of media and academia, which undoubtedly was patronized by India’s previous ruling elites and had enjoyed asymmetric domination over all modes of news dissemination.

It is being debated emphatically within contemporary India, particularly after post-2014 when the current political regime has formed the first full majority government in several decades and have since then maintained overwhelming electoral domination that the erstwhile intelligentsia’s so-called liberal and secular outlook, have indulged in reality distortion around key political and social issues, in the process compromising national interests.

Those seen as subscribing to the now ridiculed and discredited erstwhile intelligentsia’s outlook, although agreeing with the painful story of the Kashmiri Hindus portrayed in this movie, cast aspersions on the intent of the moviemaker, to find the otherwise elusive success by making a film that seemingly exacerbates the polarisation within the Indian society. 

Apparently, it is argued that the movie, accentuates an artificial sense of victimisation within India’s vast Hindu community by magnifying a real and excruciating pain experienced by a small segment of the otherwise large Hindu community of India.

In the absence of a viable and dominant political opposition to the current ruling elites in India, that section of the intelligentsia had been ridiculed, disapproved, and discredited in recent years and faces continuous attack by those who do not subscribe to the political ideology of India’s previous ruling elites.

It is beyond the scope of this piece to further enlighten the nature of this highly emotive issue that is prevalent profusely in the Indian community’s social media landscape, however, it can be said with certainty that the success of this movie within masses has further emboldened the contempt of India’s erstwhile intelligentsia for being too timid, morally corrupt, and disingenuous.

Indeed, modern India is undergoing massive political, social, cultural, and intellectual transformations in recent years, stemming from the rise of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party in New Delhi and the almost annihilation of the long-ruling Indian National Congress which has unilaterally dominated the country’s political landscape for around seven decades.

Regardless of what is in store for the future of India’s ongoing societal and cultural convulsions, it can be safely submitted that this movie Kashmir Files reflects those massive convulsions and had rubbed salt on three main above-explained controversies in India that are also widely popular in India’s social media landscape.