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Agnihotri, Joshi address all misgivings about The Kashmir Files

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While The Kashmir Files has broken box office records, makers Vivek Agnihotri and Pallavi Joshi have been responding to misgivings about the film as the chases them for the answers. In the latest development in the series, the couple braves several questions and controversies posed by ETimes. Answering critics who say the film is more political than historical, Agnihotri said, “I would say it differently and say all politics is art.”

He said about the insinuation that The Kashmir Files was doing well due to “bad publicity” that it’s “bullshit” spread by “bad publicists”.

But then, Agnihotri says there can be instances of bad publicity that are malicious, those that end careers and those that even topple regimes. “Of course, there is bad publicity. If there was no bad publicity, the previous government would not have lost. If there was no bad publicity, then so many careers in Bollywood would not have gone to the top and then crashed down just like that. Why should anybody invite bad publicity? I do not understand it. That’s a perversion,” the director of The Kashmir Files said.

Pallavi Joshi said while money “was not our aim”, the crew is happy for the box office collections as “they should because they have to make more films”.

“But the validation really is coming from the way people are calling us, the way people are giving us ideas for future films and the way people come and meet us in the cinema halls,” she said.

“I meet so many young people also whenever I go out and they all tell me that, you know, we almost had a Radhika Menon (Pallavi’s character in The Kashmir Files) in our life, but we managed to get out of her clutches. When these things happen, you realise that the film has resonated with the masses. That every person realised the intent with which we had made it, and they have associated with the honesty of the film. I think that is true validation and the greatest satisfaction that a filmmaker can get,” Joshi said.

Agnihotri agrees but adds, “To think that we are getting all the accolades is the first step to doom. If you really want to destroy yourself, this is the first thing you should think of, ‘Everything is happening because of me’. The number of (Rs) 190 crore is not correct. We have crossed (Rs) 216 crore gross as of today, worldwide. When you look at a product’s business, you do not consider only India, you always look at a global stage. We take everything inclusive, so 216 crore it is.”

On the question of “polarisation”, the director says his film rendered “a great social service. It’s a great service to democracy that you polarise between evil and good. Actually, I will not use the word polarise, I would say differentiate and segment people who are pro-humanity, people who believe in human values and human rights, and the people who are from the terrorism industry. People who give ideological or or support to terrorists. So today on one side, we have a huge number of people who believe in humanity, and the other side has very small numbers. By the end of this week, this film would have been seen by 2 crore-plus people. Out of the 2 crore people who saw this film, you won’t find a single person who will say this film is a polarising film. People who support terrorist groups are the ones criticising the film. The Kashmir Files is not dividing or polarising, it is differentiating between Ram and Raavan.”

He blasted the criticism that the Muslim point of view had not been accommodated in The Kashmir Files: “Why should I say anything to terrorists? I would tell the people who believe in humanity to defeat and destroy the terrorists.”

“If history is a bitter truth, then what can I do about it? It does not mean that we will stop showing history to the people. If there’s a patient and if the medicine is bitter, it does not mean you will not give the medicine to the patient,” Agnihotri said.

Joshi said she had temporarily deactivated his social accounts at the time of the release of The Kashmir Files because “that was not the moment to react. Those thoughts had already crossed my mind, even before I said yes to the project. I guess it was a little delayed response on my part because we knew these things would come our way. There will be different types of hurdles. We will be made to feel that we should stop making this film, but our minds were made up and there was only one way to go, and that was forward. So, we kept doing that. And today we’re sitting here with the film and so many people have watched it. I think what we did was correct.”

On fatwa issued against the filmmakers, Agnihotri said he expected it while his wife elaborated on it, saying, “Unfortunately, the people who had to leave the valley were thrown out of there because of their faith. This was a religious war, too. We knew that we would be walking on very thin ice because the minute we talk about terrorism, it gets associated with a certain religion. Although we are not talking about the religion in the film at all, we are just talking about these bunch of terrorists who have destroyed the valley completely, stripped it of its culture, heritage and traditions. Everything that the valley stood for. There were rivers of blood running through the valley. So when we talk about them and the kind of slogans they were giving out in the name of their religion, we had to show that. We knew that there would be a certain section of society, which without seeing the film, is going to think that we’ve made some anti-Islam film.”

“We were ready for that, but I’m so glad that a huge number of people have seen The Kashmir Files and these people are now telling those people that it’s not a film against any religion, it’s against terrorism. And I think we should all stand against terrorism, it’s the only correct thing to do,” Joshi remarked.

On the limited support the filmmakers have received for The Kashmir Files from the likes of Kangana Ranaut, Akshay Kumar, Yami Gautam and Aamir Khan and opposition from a large section of the entertainment industry, Agnihotri does not see it as “a battle won”, the way ETimes had put it. “I am not here to prove anybody wrong or defeat anyone. We make our films on our own. We are outside of Bollywood. We are just the opposite of Bollywood. We are the alter ego of Bollywood. We are independent filmmakers. I have no problems with who appreciates, who does not appreciate. I had just made a video on how one of the top film influencers and a very powerful person who represents the establishment of Bollywood, tried to sabotage and malign my film using and hate propaganda. She was indulging in hate propaganda against my film. If I’m the creator of the film, it is my moral and ethical duty to defend my film. That’s why I made that video. As far as the Kapil Sharma episode goes, I’m a fan of Kapil Sharma. I watch his program, even though we do not have a TV. It’s not that I have anything against him. I understand how this system functions. It was because people were trolling me and they were after my life asking me, ‘Why do not you go? Why do not you go on ‘The Kapil Sharma Show’?’ And it started appearing as if I have something against the show. So I just said, ‘Zee Studios told us officially, that when they tried to tie up with the show they were told by the show that we cannot invite the team because it does not have big stars. This is the official reason.”

“Zee will not lie and I have all the reasons to believe this because I have also been part of Bollywood, so I know how it functions. The same media, which was not giving us an inch of space, today, all of them are coming and talking to us. It’s not that we have won a battle,” the director said.

Agnihotri had ‘graduated’ from commercial flicks like Dhan Dhana Dhan Goal and Chocolate when he came up with Buddha In a Traffic Jam, which his wife said was “certainly not a soft” transition. Agnihotri said while he wished nobody had to make that transition, he made the switch as “I am not cut out for that system. I am a person with integrity. It’s my integrity and I want to work with talented people. I want to do creative work and showcase Indian films as a soft power to the world. I was not enjoying the system I was working in. How can a star get it written in a contract that he will have the creative control and editing control and the marketing control over a film? Who the hell are you? I’m the creator and it is a creator’s medium. It should be a writer’s and director’s medium. Nobody gives you time to research. Nobody gives you time to write scripts. People will come and change the scripts. Your film, your talent, your competence is as good or as bad as your star. Suppose today I work with an unknown person, then my status as a filmmaker will be according to that. But if I sign a big star, then my status swells up. If you work with the Badshah, then you are the Badshah, but if you’re not working with the Badshah then you’re a Runk. You are nobody. I wanted to break and challenge that system. I came out of it and we are independent filmmakers and we do everything on our own now. And we are very happy.”

The couple said they were working on the anti-CAA riots of 2019, which tentatively people are referring to as ‘The Delhi Files’ as this seems to be the format of his film names, which began with The Tashkent Files based on the mysterious death of India’s second full-time Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri. “We are doing The Delhi Files. As far as the web series is concerned, I do not have to do much because we have almost all the material we need because we shot most of it. We need some good people who can put it together and we can supervise and make it. That’s going to be interesting, but somebody has to fund it. Somebody has to finance it. Somebody has to commission it. Why do not you ask Junglee Pictures to help us out? It’s a national heritage. Imagine no studio in Germany being able to fund or acquire video testimonials of all the Holocaust survivors. In India, we should not miss out on this chance,” Agnihotri said.

He said about the challenges faced while taking up projects of the type, “We invite difficulty.”

Joshi said it should become easy for filmmakers like them. “… I hope that younger filmmakers now get the required incentive and encouragement, having seen the success of this film, to come out and tell their own stories in the way they want to,” she said.

Agnihotri rationalises the fact that politicians are commenting on the film: “When you make a film on the LGBTQ community, everyone from their community; people, activists, and writers, everybody gets involved. When you make a film on the education system, like the brilliant film by Rajkumar Hirani, then everyone from education gets involved. Similarly, when Rang De Basanti came along, all those associations and organisations, which were concerned about the army and defence and human rights — all of them got involved. This is a political film. It’s one of the most complex, politically sensitive, political issue-based films. So it’s but natural for the and politicians to get involved.”

“The second reason they are getting involved is, for 32 years, both politicians and have created a kind of ideological shield to cover up. And there has been a lie being told for 32 years. Now that shield is being shattered and the real faces are out. Therefore, they are rattled and therefore they are so involved,” the filmmaker says.

Accepting the accolades being showered on the cast, Agnihotri praised his wife, who was also the casting director. “She has insisted since we conceptualised Buddha In A Traffic Jam that we will cast only actors,” he said.

Joshi said about her actors, “I am extremely happy because I know the entire cast put in their absolute best. Chinmay Mandlekar, Darshan Kumar, Prakash Belawadi, Mrinal Kulkarni and Puneet Issar have all done a fabulous job. Mithun Chakraborty brought the emotions alive and Anupam Kher has literally shattered hearts with his tragic drama. I can write volumes about the cast of The Kashmir Files.”

Speaking of the feedback, she said, “I am getting some really beautiful videos like that of a Kashmiri Pandit woman crying in the theatre, and some people going up to her, consoling her and saying, ‘We are sorry, we did not know your story for so long, but we are with you’. The emotions that this movie is evoking in people, it’s bringing them all together. I think that is a divine feeling.”

Her husband added, “I am happy about the conversations. People who believe in humanity and integrity and, the integrity of India, are bringing their facts and people who belong to the terrorism industry and were supporting the terrorists by saying that so many people died, not so many people died, they are also bringing their half-truths or facts, whatever they can, but at least people are discussing facts.”

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