The Kashmir Files, a film released on Friday about the exodus of Kashmiri Pandits from the Valley, has struck a chord with audiences, raking in an estimated Rs 60 crore by Tuesday.
It has been helped by an intense social-media campaign of WhatsApp forwards urging Indians to watch the film “if they are interested in the future”. It has also been powered by incentives from the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party: even as Prime Minister Narendra Modi and other senior leaders have endorsed the movie, several states ruled by the party have given The Kashmir Files tax exemptions – and offered government employees leave from work to watch the film.
Several Opposition politicians have questioned the factual accuracy of the film and the communal tone of the discussion around it. They have pointed out that the Congress was not in power at the Centre when the Pandit exodus occurred and claimed that the governor of the state who facilitated the flight of the community had been approved by the BJP.
Critics have noted that the director Vivek Agnihotri has used the tragedy of Kashmiri Pandits in a “deliberately misleading way to serve a partisan cause” and that the film’s “propagandist verve [cements] the current dispensation’s favoured discourse”. As a consequence, the BJP has used The Kashmir Files to blame the Congress for the exodus of the Kashmiri Pandits.
As of Wednesday, eight state governments, all ruled by the BJP, had announced tax breaks for the film: Haryana, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka, Goa, Tripura, Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand. The chief ministers of several of these states posted messages on Twitter expressing support for the film and announcing that it would be exempt from taxes.
The chief minister of Assam, who also praised the film, said that he could not exempt The Kashmir Files from tax because his state did not have entertainment tax.
The chief ministers of Uttarakhand and Tripura personally called the film director and writer Vivek Agnihotri to congratulate him for making the film.
When a film is made tax free, entertainment tax is not levied on it, which makes ticket prices cheaper. Usually, films that are exempt from taxes deal with historical themes or social causes that the government wants to push. For instance, in 2017, Toilet Ek Prem Katha – which discussed sanitation for women – was given tax exemptions in several states.
Outside of BJP-ruled states, BJP legislators in states where the Opposition parties are in power, urged the ruling governments to give tax exemption to The Kashmir Files. These include the states of Maharashtra, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan and West Bengal.
Leave to watch films
At least two states, Madhya Pradesh and Assam announced time off from work for government employees to go and watch the film.
Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sharma announced half-day leave for state government employees to watch the film. “They will have to only inform their superior officers and submit the tickets the next day,” he tweeted.
Madhya Pradesh’s home minister Narottam Mishra announced special leave for police personnel who wanted to watch the film.
Meanwhile, several state governments announced special screenings of the film. The chief ministers of Assam and Tripura watched the film along with members of their cabinets.
Karnataka Legislative Council Chairperson Basavraj Horatti announced a special screening of the film on Tuesday for all Karnataka legislators. Several Opposition members of the council criticised this announcement, saying that the chairperson should not make such announcements in the house and should be unbiased.
One BJP member of the Karnataka legislative assembly, Basanagouda Yatnal, announced that he would sponsor one show of the movie in a theatre in Vijayapura for a week. “It has to be shown to our people so as to spread awareness that in the coming years no such incident should take place with us,” he told the Deccan Herald. In Madhya Pradesh, a BJP spokesperson booked an entire cinema hall so audiences could watch the film free.
It is not just the ruling party. Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel of the Congress invited all legislators from the state to watch the film. However, after watching the film he said that it was full of violence without any message.
Statements by top BJP leaders
In addition to these state benefits for the film, many top BJP leaders have endorsed the film.
On Tuesday, Prime Minister Modi expressed support for the film at a BJP parliamentary party meeting and used it to cricise the Opposition. “Those who always carry the flag of freedom of expression, this entire group has been rattled these past five-six days,” he claimed.
On Saturday, Modi even met the team behind the movie and expressed his appreciation for their work.
Union Home Minister Amit Shah also met some members of The Kashmir Files team and commended their effort to show the “sacrifice, unbearable pain and struggle of Kashmiri Pandits who were forced to leave their home”.
The movie even found its way to the floor of the Lok Sabha. On Tuesday, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman brought up the film while presenting the Jammu and Kashmir budget. She blamed the Congress government for failing to help the Kashmiri Pandits and accused the party of denying their pain.
The BJP’s propaganda unit also pitched in its support. On Friday, the BJP “information and technology cell” head Amit Malviya tweeted, “Go out and watch the movie as it releases in theatres today.”
Media outlets that support the BJP have been writing articles and organising debates about the film. The OpIndia website has carried several articles praising the film and questioning the Opposition for its position on the film.
Several television news channels have run primetime debates praising the film and questioning the Opposition’s criticism of it.
Fact-checkers busting claims
However, a few claims regarding the film have also been debunked in the last few days.
On Monday, Agnihotri had claimed that the state of Rhode Island in the United States had recognised that the genocide of Kashmiri Pandits had taken place in the 1990s, all because of his movie. However, fact-checkers say that this claim is incorrect. The state had only issued an acknowledgement of the premiere of the film and had not commented on the veracity of its claims made in it.
The same day, the movie database website IMDb noted that the review page of The Kashmir Files was seeing some “unusual activity”. The movie had earlier got a rating of 9.9. However, IMDb noted said that “to preserve the reliability of our rating system, an alternate weighting calculation has been applied” to rate the movie. This brought down the film’s rating to 8.3 on Monday evening.
Several opposition leaders have questioned the factual accuracy of the movie and the narrative built around it. On Wednesday, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee in the state assembly described the film as a conspiracy and said that it was “mostly fiction”. The same day, former Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti criticised the BJP-led Central government of weaponising the pain of Kashmiri Pandits.
Member of Parliament and All India United Democratic Front Chief Badruddin Ajmal demanded that the film be banned as it could stoke communal tensions between Hindus and Muslims.
On Sunday, the Rashtriya Janata Dal Uttar Pradesh unit also tweeted that the film was propaganda. The next day, the Kerala Congress unit put out a series of tweets on this issue accusing the BJP of keeping “clashes alive for electoral benefits”. Earlier, the handle had deleted a few tweets that contested the factual accuracy of the movie. However, it later tweeted saying it stood by the tweets.