Ashvin Kumar (director)
24 January 2020 (released)
24 January 2020
It’s generally not that much in headlines, let alone the news but the situation in Kashmir deeply troubling to say the least. Ashvin Kumar’s film tries to present, if not disentangle, the forces at play in the region (military, family and religion) via a tender story of mutual loss and friendship.
Noor (Zara Webb) is a confident 16 year-old who lives in the UK but taken to Kashmir by her mother to see her grandparents (whom she has never seen) and sort out some family matters. The journey is documented at every step by Noor (brilliantly compiled through the sound of synthesised snaps).
Arriving at the village they are met by the family and a local gang of boys. Majid (Shivam Raina) is curious and quite taken by Noor, and with her curiosity peaked, they gradually develop a friendship. As they talk, Noor becomes more aware the situation, dispelling some of her preconceptions: there is a difference between terrorists and militants. This is serious stuff explained in a matter of fact way, with dull resignation by Majid. But they are teenagers so there's also time for some mucking around, as Noor takes a selfie with Majid posing as a ‘militant’ which gets him a beating and it ending up on Facebook, far more serious consequences.
Noor and Majid draw closer as they discover that both their fathers disappeared during an Indian army crackdown, and never heard of since. This has left the whole family in a sort of cultural limbo not knowing their fates and thus not able to move on. The truth emerges leading Noor and Majid to make a dangerous journey to where they think their fathers are. Their actions and what they discover have consequences and repercussions that are felt throughout the entire village.
Kumar’s film is slow and probably a little too long but those are minor issues as he’s telling a relatively straightforward story of young love, interwoven with the complexities of culture, religion and a military presence. Nothing is straightforward as within the village there are discussions about Islam and its teachings. There’s the intrigue of who knew what about the missing people, the manipulations and self-interest motives.
The bad guys are the Indian army and they are nasty but even here Kumar touches on the paranoia and fear of a commander about photographs and the power they could wield. (The village has destroyed family photos for fear that they could be used against them by the Indian army.) He doesn’t suggest sympathy more an understanding, though as the film progresses that tends to erode too.
The cast are uniformly excellent with Webb and Raina giving compelling natural performances as young people dealing with their own emotions but also the brutal reality of the situation. The film looks superb with the wide landscapes blending with the dusty streets of the village, and more intimately, Noor’s insatiable quest to record everything on her mobile.