Article 370 Movie Review: Aditya Suhas Jambhale’s ‘Article 370’ is an effective, entertaining primer on Kashmir, mixing outdoor action and indoor political drama

Aditya Suhas Jambhale
The film stars Yami Gautam Dhar and Priya Mani. The movie simplifies – and necessarily so, for narrative reasons – a very complex issue. And as a movie, it works.
Article 370 Movie Review

Article 370 Movie Cast & Crew

Production : Jio Studios,B62 Studios

The only way to watch a historical movie – whether it’s the biopic of a character, or the biopic of a political act, like Article 370 – is to keep in mind Akira Kurosawa’s Rashomon. Depending on a number of factors from our political beliefs to personal prejudices, the “truth” on screen is not necessarily the “truth” that happened. What matters, then, is whether the film – without too much embellishment – presents a version of what could have possibly happened. Director Aditya Suhas Jambhale manages that quite well in this effective, entertaining primer on the abrogation of Article 370, which gave special status to Jammu & Kashmir. The film opens with Kashmir being described as an open-air jail and ends with pictures indicating that all is well now. The movie, in other words, simplifies – and necessarily so, for screenplay reasons and censorship reasons –  a very complex issue. And taken purely as a movie, it works.

First, we get a primer before this primer on Article 370, about how the Muslim-majority state of Jammu & Kashmir had a Hindu king named Hari Singh. We hear about Jawaharlal Nehru’s alliance with Sheikh Abdullah, and so on and so forth, and we arrive at the point where the state becomes “apni desh mein ek alag mulk”. Once this past is established, we land in the present, on the day the voting happens on revoking the special status accorded to Kashmir: August 5, 2019. The strength of the narrative, which spans the years 2016-19, is that the two protagonists are women. Yami Gautam Dhar plays Zooni Haksar, the action heroine out on dangerous missions to apprehend terrorists or mujahid-s, depending on who is doing the talking. And Priya Mani plays Rajeshwari Swaminathan, the determined deputy secretary of the Prime Minister’s Office. One handles the pistols, the other handles the paperwork, and slick interplay between this two-woman team is propulsively watchable. Both characters – refreshingly – are committed career women, with no romances/relationships, and both actors are rock-solid.

The fast-paced narrative is divided into chapters with pulpy titles (“The Lover Boy of Traal”, “A Knock on the Door”), and, indeed, what we see could be a film-isation of a Len Deighton or a John Le Carré novel, infused with the pyrotechnics of a James Bond adventure. The shootouts are very well staged, and the challenges regarding Kashmir keep mounting: from “the biggest rebellion against the Indian government” to unmasking possible double agents, from a voice of reason arguing against the abrogation of Article 370 to (my favourite part) the detective work around a missing clause in a document. There is also a personal angle to Zooni’s involvement, and this is the part that gets lost amidst all the sound and fury. A subsequent track about a comrade who is killed in action – in Pulwama – works much better to infuse Zooni with increased zeal.

An extended stretch of cross-cutting between two kinds of conflict – Zooni and team versus attackers, Rajeshwari and the Prime Minister in the Rajya Sabha – is particularly well-done. Among the bunch of characters that add intrigue to this tale are a man with carefully cultivated “back channels” with terrorists and separatists, a fearless political reporter played by Iravati Harshe, the variations on Farooq Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti, and a Prime Minister who is unnamed but is played by Arun Govil whose best-known role is that of the king of Ayodhya. The masala moments – like how a bunch of stone-pelters are foiled – are handled matter-of-factly, without too much triumphalism. In fact, the words “his death will not be in vain” are used both for someone who fought for Kashmir and someone who fought for India, in different contexts. I wouldn’t exactly call this a balancing act, but there’s certainly no jingoism in the writing – though some may question if the premise itself is jingoistic, pushing a pro-Government narrative in an election year. But again, as a movie, it works.

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Baradwaj Rangan

National Award-winning film critic Baradwaj Rangan, former deputy editor of The Hindu and senior editor of Film Companion, has carved a niche for himself over the years as a powerful voice in cinema, especially the Tamil film industry, with his reviews of films. While he was pursuing his chemical engineering degree, he was fascinated with the writing and analysis of world cinema by American critics. Baradwaj completed his Master’s degree in Advertising and Public Relations through scholarship. His first review was for the Hindi film Dum, published on January 30, 2003, in the Madras Plus supplement of The Economic Times. He then started critiquing Tamil films in 2014 and did a review on the film Subramaniapuram, while also debuting as a writer in the unreleased rom-com Kadhal 2 Kalyanam. Furthermore, Baradwaj has authored two books - Conversations with Mani Ratnam, 2012, and A Journey Through Indian Cinema, 2014. In 2017, he joined Film Companion South and continued to show his prowess in critiquing for the next five years garnering a wide viewership and a fan following of his own before announcing to be a part of Galatta Media in March 2022.