Oscar-nominated writer/director Ashvin Kumar’s “No Fathers in Kashmir” is directed with the erratic energy of a young filmmaker experimenting with the medium for the first time. While it gives uncompromising intrigue to this coming of age story, Kumar – Who now has 8 films under his directorial belt; takes away most of the heightened impact that a story of Kashmir’s forced and unpredictable disappearances could have had.
The film opens with Noor (Zara La Peta Webb) – A teenager who has been living a steady life without a father in London. She is suddenly asked by her mother to visit her father’s home back in Kashmir so that the mother can free herself from being a half-widow and make a life with a suitable man who can have things easy for her. Noor – Who is firstly reluctant, agrees to accompany her as she gets a chance to click a few interesting insta-worthy pictures on her phone.
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Set against the backdrop of a family whose life has changed over the course of time because of a family member’s unaccounted disappearance, Kumar’s film does an interesting turnover. Instead of directly throwing us into the horrifying and disturbing situation in Kashmir, he chooses to show it through a teenager’s point of view. By the point of view, I mean his choice of showing the happenings and the surrounding from inside Noor’s cellphone camera.
By doing so, he gets the high ground of presenting the coming of age arc from it’s most innocent to the most horrific. The template coming of age tale is laid down with multiple subplots – One of which involves Kumar himself acting the part of Noor’s father’s friend who is looking for something effective and worthwhile to do in his life. The baggage that is piled onto Arshid (Ashvin Kumar) feels outstretched to a point where only grimness seems to abound the beautiful lands of Kashmir. Another involving Noor’s grandparents (Played by veteran actors – Kulbhushan Kharbanda & Soni Razdan) still reminiscing on the scraps of their son’s demise feels like a lost cause that doesn’t serve the narrative in any way.
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The central narrative drives on Noor’s quest to investigate his father’s disappearance to finally have a closure while also stumbling onto the violence that skims the valleys of Kashmir – Both by the military and the militants. Ashvin paints even the greyest characters in a spur of realism – Giving them enough stability so that the human condition is also constantly questioned. In doing so, the conflict that arises when Noor and Majid embark on a journey to come to a point of end doesn’t feel like a narrative choice that also serves the multiple plot threads that are left open while going the other way. The acting in the film is mostly top-notch. Kumar who also debuts in the acting department is really good. The music, however, often gets thoroughly unbearable while the camerawork feels like a tricky business.
“No Fathers in Kashmir” makes a solid case for people with half-lives. Children, adults, and relationships that have been affected by a single disappearance get you emotionally invested in the drama. But Ashvin Kumar – Who chooses to mostly put his film as an English language hard-hitter, fails to subdue the lack of subtlety with something that remains in one’s memories.