Vivek Ranjan Agnihotri: Anupam Kher has beautifully portrayed his father’s humbleness in ‘The Kashmir Files’ – Times of India

After delivering a path-breaking movie like ‘The Tashkent Files’, Vivek Ranjan Agnihotri is back with yet another riveting tale. The filmmaker’s next is based on the exodus of Kashmiri Hindus from the valley and he has roped in acting stalwarts like Anupam Kher, Pallavi Joshi and Mithun Chakraborty to essay the leads. As ‘The Kashmir Files’ gears up for a theatrical release, Vivek Ranjan Agnihotri gives a lowdown on the challenges and threats he faced while shooting in real locations and what the audience should expect from this movie. Excerpts:

You’ve got so many National Award winning actors together, did you always want to cast Anupam Kher, Pallavi Joshi, Mithun Chakraborty in this movie?
Of course, when we started doing these ‘Files’ series, both Pallavi and I consciously decided that we will work with as many National Award winners as possible because we have noticed that we do not give respect to our National Award winners. But if you go through the list of winners, you will find the best of the actors. Hollywood celebrates Academy Awards winners so much but we never ever care about National Award winners, so we decided to use their experience and bring a certain gravitas in acting as far as possible. And that’s why we are focusing so much on National Award winners. And those who have not won a National Award, they are also very qualified actors. As far as Mithun da and Anupam Kher are concerned, I think it was decided right at the conception stage, because it’s difficult for me to imagine making the film without Mithun Chakraborty. He brings so much value to the film and since this was a Kashmiri Pandit issue, how could I make a film without Anupam Kher!

How difficult or easy is it to have such a creatively charged team on the sets?
I have learnt through experience that your film is as good or as bad as the atmosphere on the sets. Whatever people feel on the sets is exactly what the audience will end up feeling. And this I have learnt only when I started working with great actors. What happens when you have people like Mithun Chakraborty working with you, they are always before time, they even get the sets cleaned, their contribution is so much and the kind of energy they bring in. Because of them, every other actor starts exhibiting the same energy. I believe in a great transcending of energy from one actor to another and so I give the actors whatever I have written and tell them to bring their own shades and value to the role. I do not interfere much in their work. Therefore we have a very creative kind of energy and as far as ‘The Kashmir Files’ is concerned I would say there was always a kind of divine energy on the sets as if we were just the medium and somebody else was making it.

Did you receive any inputs from Anupam Kher, since he is a Kashmiri Pandit?
We received inputs from every single actor. As far as Anupam is concerned, he brought in such nuances in Kashmiri language, he understood the gist of the scene, added Kashmiri songs which he was singing. Anupam also spoke in Kashmiri language with other characters and that has brought in a lot of additional quality to the film. When I met him, He asked me, ‘What is the name of this character?’ I remember his father’s name is Pushkarnath Kher, so I said, ‘Pushkarnath Kher’. And since then, the right note was hit. Anupam Kher very well portrayed his father’s meekness, hopelessness, humbleness. His father was a Kashmiri Pandit, the way he walked, spoke. And we got a lot of that in Mr Anupam Kher’s look. He never interferes in what to wear or say but once he is on the sets, he brings in a lot of value.

How did you brave the threats while shooting for the film in the real locations of Kashmir?
Shooting in Kashmir is never easy, it was always challenging. I knew with me being at the helm of affairs, people won’t like what I am making and the political narratives will start playing up and then people will unnecessarily start opposing it. But, we got a lot of security. We wanted to shoot very quietly, not post any pictures until the time we finished with the shooting. Secondly, the snow posed a big challenge. The Dal lake where we wanted to shoot was frozen in 1990 when the genocide took place and after 31 years when we went there, it froze. Our flight was cancelled so many times, we spent three whole days at the airport and finally when we reached, the lake was frozen. We had to break it and make a path in the lake to reach where we wanted to shoot. And the day we wrapped the shoot, the lake froze completely. But while we were there, the biggest challenge was that I was working with young people as I like to engage with the youth, a lot of my films are for them. But then some humour from my side, they didn’t understand and issued a Fatwa against me. I realised this only after reaching Mumbai. I think this is a big challenge which still looms over our heads.

Lastly, how would you sum up ‘The Kashmir Files’, what should the audience expect from it?
The audience should not expect anything from the movie because what do you expect from the truth? The film is a reality, every single word in the film is true, every story is real. People may come thinking that the film is about communal issues, or bashing certain communities or jingoism. But five minutes into the film, they realise that nothing of this kind is going to happen and then surrender to the reality of the film, the inhumanity of the film and by the time it ends, everybody will be crying in unison. The biggest thing is the emotion that this film is evoking, it is not just a Kashmiri Pandit’s film but it is every Indian’s movie. People will feel so connected and one with each other, it will bring in a sense of unity despite so much despair and crying. When the audience walks out of theatres, they will feel that there is hope as long as we are not silenced.


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