Writer-director Ashvin Kumar draws you into the story of Kashmir through a coming-of-age teenage love story. Noor (Zara Webb), a 16-year-old British girl, is visiting her grandparents in Kashmir. Her single mother (Natasha Mago) is hoping to find closure after the disappearance of her husband years ago so that both she and her daughter can move on.
Noor’s grandparents, played by Soni Razdan and Kulbhushan Kharbanda, are reluctant to let go. Holding on to the dim but fading hope of their son’s return, they take succour in the visit of their grandchild.
Noor is a curious teen. While she documents her entire visit on her cellphone camera, she also begins to ask questions about her father’s absence. The truth becomes more stark when she befriends Majid (Shivam Raina), a boy from the same village with a similar story. His father too was disappeared and his mother is a “half-widow, half-wife”, much like Noor’s mother. Some of their antics are pointers to the drama that lies ahead.
Bonded by empathy, Noor and Majid experience the first flush of romance and embark on a mission that is fraught with danger and heartbreak.
Noor pieces together details of her Kashmir adventure through her observations, experiences and conversations with Arshid Lone (Ashvin Kumar), her father’s old friend and a radical. Through Majid and Arshid, Noor gets a primer on the difference between terrorism and militancy, on the conflict in Kashmir and the horrors of “enforced disappearance”.
From the women in the village, we see the effects on a community where many live in purgatory. Kumar also explores concepts such as forgiveness and compassion. In one scene, when Noor asks for images of her father, Kulbhushan Kharbanda shows his granddaughter empty photo albums and says, “We wiped out the history of our people with our own hands.”
Ashvin Kumar neatly juxtaposes the beauty of the Valley and Noor’s joy with omnipresent fear as the Indian Army and local residents repeatedly clash with each other. In one scene, capturing the frustration of his posting, an Army Major (Anshuman Jha) remarks, “I don’t know how to do my job here. Give me a clean fight. Give me an enemy I can see.”
The 107-minute film moves between English, Kashmiri and Urdu. The English dialogue is occasionally stilted, particularly when spoken by Majid. The music is a bit piercing at times. The cast is spot on, though, both in their appearance and their pitch, particularly Webb, Raina, Kumar, Kharbanda and Razdan.
Directors of photography Jean Marc Selva and Jean Marie Delorme intercut full-screen and cellphone screen ratios to nudge along the narrative. Editors Thomas Goldser, Abhro Banerjee and Kumar keep the film moving at a clip that accentuates the writer-director sometimes stunning, sometimes stressful and all together sobering view of a situation that he seasons with hope.