Of the most vexing issues created by mankind on the face of this Earth, the Kashmir dispute occupies pride of place. Several wars have been fought over it, prisoners of war taken, and lives lost. And what do we have to show for it? Nothing but the rise of the most devastating proxy war there ever was – the upsurge of militancy in the land that once held the sobriquet of Heaven on Earth.
An unsavoury offshoot of the complete breakdown in relationships between India and Pakistan is the multitude of innocents languishing in jails on both sides of the border; innocents whose only fault is that they mistakenly wandered into enemy territory. Several such stories have hit international headlines in recent times, with Kuldeep Yadav’s being the most high-decibel one.
These innocent men and women, most of whom have simply lost their way, are caught and thrown into jail, accused of being spies or militants, never to see the light of day again. Sarabjeet Singh’s case comes to mind.
Reams of paper and reels of film have been expended to make some sense of the dilemma through the prism of the creative arts. Veer Zara, Sarabjeet, Refugee, Bajrangi Bhaijaan, all Bollywood films, spring to mind immediately. And now the web space has its very own piece of compelling content that tackles the intricacies of the issue in a breathtakingly delicate, subtle and layered manner – that is Zee5’s newly released web series, the exquisitely named, Kaafir.
The word Kaafir means a Muslim who is a non-believer, someone who has gone against the tenets of Islam. It is a nasty word, meant to slice a person to bits in the Islamic scheme of things.
Directed by Sonam Nair, and written by Bhavani Iyer, Kaafir is an eight-episode series, produced by Siddharth Malhotra’s Alchemy Films. The series marks the digital debut of Dia Mirza and Mohit Raina, two enormously gifted actors.
Kaafir is a complex, layered drama, brimming with emotions and passions – passion for the motherland, passion for beliefs, and passion for what it means to be human. It is also a tale where serendipity, fate, Karma, call it what you will, steers the plot through the elaborate twists, turns and tumbles that the narrative embarks upon.
Kaafir is set in the Kashmir of today, with its complex milieu of mistrust, uncertainty and the threat of militant attacks constantly hanging in the air. Releasing as it does in the era post the Pulwama attack, Kaafir takes on a particularly ominous hue, more so because the first episode begins with a premise painfully similar to the real-life incident. Exactly a year ago, a squad of militants had driven a van of explosives into an Indian Army bus, killing all the jawans instantly, one among who was Veer, protagonist Vedant Rathod’s (Mohit Raina) younger sibling.
Kaafir is the story of Kainaaz Akhtar (Dia Mirza), a Pakistani woman who is forsaken by her lout of a husband for being infertile. A cruel twist of fate lands her in the Indian side of Kashmir and into the hands of the Indian Army who, assuming her to be a militant, banishes her to jail.
Kaafir is the story of Sehar (Dishita Jain), Kainaaz’s sweet, innocent six-year-old daughter, who’s born in a Kashmiri jail, and is the product of the most heinous crime against a woman. The birth of Sehar is a bitter irony for Kainaaz – it proves that she’s not infertile after all.
Kaafir is also the story of Vedant Rathod, a lawyer with lofty ideals. He believes in the finer values of being human – kindness, compassion, and more significantly, the basic goodness of the human race. Shakespeare once said, “Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and others have greatness thrust upon them.”
VedantRathod turns out to be of the latter ilk. In seeking redemption for his past, which caused Veer’s death, and unbeknownst to her, also Kainaaz’s internment, the idealistic Vedant achieves the seemingly impossible, thus being thrust into serendipitous greatness.
The storyline and premise of Kaafir is vastly intriguing and fascinating. It touches upon a theme that is close to every Indian and Pakistani heart. It is a conundrum that has caused a lot of heartburn on both sides of the border, especially in recent times, what with the Pulwama attack, the Balikot strike and Major Abhinandan’s capture and subsequent release on humanitarian grounds.
What rankles about Kaafir is the agonizingly slow pace of the narrative. The story meanders its way through the plot at a pace that is languid and laidback, which only serves to bog down the show considerably. The plot drags excruciatingly in every episode, causing us to hit the forward button ever so often, in an effort to speed up the proceedings.
Sporadic bursts of brilliance mark the series. Those bursts of brilliance, however, are interspersed with painfully tedious sequences, verging on the edge of boredom. Certain scenes are truly remarkable – the one where Kainaaz calls out the Pakistani Home Minister is absolutely goose-bumps worthy. Likewise is the one when Sehar pronounces loudly, and with utmost conviction, that she is not Pakistani, she is Hindustani. The child’s clear, ringing voice, when she utters those words, is powerful enough to stir the most hardened of souls.
Mohit Raina has put in an absolutely outstanding performance. The actor’s in his element when he portrays persuasive characters that are gifted with inhuman strength, but are in fact gently human. His placid, penetrating eyes, combined with an intensely creased forehead, serve to convey emotions that would be out of bounds for a lesser actor.
DiaMirza dazzles splendidly in the role of Kainaaz. Her mild expressions manage to mask the turmoil within. But her eyes convey everything that words do not– anxiety, for Sehar’s well-being; longing, when she looks at the open sky from within the confines of the jail; betrayal, censure, and contempt, when she looks at her rapist with eyes fiery enough to burn a hole through his being. Yes, her evocative eyes, brimming with myriad feelings and unshed tears, do most of the talking for her.
The cute-as-a-button Dishita Jain deserves a special mention. She tugs at our heart-strings with her gentle guilelessness and exquisite innocence as Sehar. The chit of a girl also excels at delivering difficult dialogues with supreme ease whenever the need arises.
To sum it up, Kaafir is a gripping story that could have done with a tighter script and quicker pace. The present languorous pace appears more to be a product of the director’s self-indulgent style of film-making, and less, a requisite of the script.
That notwithstanding, Kaafir is definitely an impressive series to watch and savour, whenever you feel the need to indulge in great content.
In the meanwhile, 3/5 is our rating for Kaafir.