The Kashmir Files gets R18 classification, appeasing many, upsetting some

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The Hindi film will be released in New Zealand theatres on March 31, 2022

After hitting objections, the movie will hit the big screen in New Zealand on March 31, 2022
  1. Venkat Raman
    Auckland, March 26, 2022

The Kashmir Files, a Hindi film that raised raging debates across the country over the past week, will be released in Cinemas all over New Zealand on March 31, 2022, after Chief Censor David Shanks decided to reclassify it with R18, meaning that its viewing will be restricted to people aged 18 years and above.

Mr Shanks and his Office of Classification in Wellington were under immense pressure over the past seven days, with the Muslim community calling for its ban and the Hindu community saying that it should be for unrestricted exhibition. A majority of others, including the Free Speech Union, said that The Kashmir Files should not be banned.

There were calls for the immediate release of the film from its Producer-Director Vivek Agnihotri in Mumbai, a number of Indian associations in New Zealand and rather unusually, from India’s High Commissioner to New Zealand Muktesh Pardeshi.

About The Kashmir Files

As reported earlier, The Kashmir Files portrays vividly the torture, violence and death following Insurgency in the Kashmir Valley between 1989 and 1990, forcing an estimated 500,000 Hindus, known as Kashmir Pandits, to flee their home State. They resettled in various parts of India and abroad. According to estimates, there are about 100 such families settled in New Zealand.

Kashmir Pandits have always alleged that they were not allowed to own property in their home State and that it had the iron rule of Muslims since 1950, with Article 370 of the Indian Constitution according to Jammu and Kashmir a special status.

Pakistan has been claiming Kashmir as a part of its territory and went to war with India thrice.

On August 5, 2019, The Indian government abrogated Article 370, declaring that Jammu and Kashmir will follow the common Indian Law.

Mrinal Kulkarni (Laxmi Dutt), Darshan Kuma (Krishna Pandit) and Anupam Kher (Pushkar Nath Pandit) Stills from the movie

Hoyts Cinemas, which will be screening the film from March 31, 2022, has said, “The Kashmir Files is a heart-wrenching narrative of the pain, suffering, struggle and trauma of Kashmir Pandits, seen through the eyes of Krishna, the protagonist. The film questions eye-opening facts about democracy, religion, politics and humanity.”

This Reporter had covered the Kashmir Insurgency for a daily newspaper in the Middle East 32 years ago. It must therefore be categorically said that The Kashmir Files is not a fictional film but a true narration of incidents as they occurred. It could have a theatrical effect but its authenticity is unquestionable.

Not that the film has been above controversy. In fact, it is one of the most publicly debated films in recent memory. Even in India, where a large number of people are aware of the ugly incidents that took place in Kashmir in 1989-1990, there were objections to the movie. The Kashmir files had its share of problems with the Censors Board (of which Mr Agnihotri is a nominated member).

While it is showing to packed houses in all centres of release, it had to suffer some cuts and R18 classification by regulatory authorities in India, the United Kingdom, Europe and the United States of America. In Australia, it received R18+ Rating.

Community Discussion followed by Difficult Decision: Chief Censor David Shanks (Wikipedia Photo)

Muslims express concern

Mr Shanks said that members of the Muslim community had expressed concern that the film would have a negative impact on them, whereas Hindus felt strongly that it showed an important part of their history.

In a letter sent to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern on March 18, 2022, the Federation of Islamic Associations of New Zealand (the letter has been widely shared on social media but Indian Newslink decided not to publish it), had alleged that The Kashmir Files is being promoted globally by Hindu Right Wing groups such as the RSS and VHP.

Here is a small part of that letter:

“The purpose of the movie is to undermine Kashmiri and Indian Muslims in general, as well as inciting hatred against Muslims in India and globally, including here in New Zealand,” the letter said and feared that the film “will cause further social discord and fuel Islamophobia hate in New Zealand.”

No extremism or violence

But Mr Shanks did not agree.

“I watched the film, and I am satisfied that it does not promote extremism or violence in a way that would require it to be classified as objectionable (banned) in New Zealand. However, I think an R18 restriction is warranted given the nature and intensity of the violence and cruelty depicted. This age restriction is consistent with what the film received in Australia and India,” he said in a press note.

“I know this decision will disappoint some members of the Hindu community that I spoke with, who believe that the film has historical value and should be released with no age restriction. Similarly, some members of the Muslim community were of the view that the risk of harm that it posed meant that it should not be screened at all. I hear and understand both perspectives,” he said.

Mr Shanks spent this week meeting with representatives of various ethnic groups across the country to enlist their views about the movie.

“The community leaders that I spoke to about this made it clear to me that they do not condone or tolerate expressions of hatred or oppression in their communities, and they are prepared to play their part to ensure the film doesn’t prompt this. I believe them, and I think there is an opportunity here to build understanding and social cohesion, rather than erode it.

“My Office will provide information detailing the reasons for the decision and the process to seek a review by The Film and Literature Board of Review, as well as other information about support and help available.

No political influence

Mr Shanks discounted some suggestions made, that ‘some people high up in the government’ wanted him to ban the movie.

We believe in the integrity and independence of officials in charge of various departments and agencies of the government. We believe that Mr Shanks represents that dignity and honour.

“I would note that it has been suggested publicly that my decision to revisit the classification of this film was in some way improper or politically influenced. That is untrue. The independence of my office is absolutely central to carrying out our challenging role, and I will always act to protect it.  Another important aspect of our role is being open to hearing from members of our society who have real concerns about the potential harm of a film and seeking to gain a broad and balanced perspective on what might be done to address those concerns.  That is what my Office and I have sought to do in this case, and I greatly appreciate the willingness of the respective communities to speak with me and support that endeavour,” he said in the press note.

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