India and Pakistan have been at war over Kashmir since 1947, with more than 100,000 dead and countless suspected militants rounded up by the army, never to be seen again. Thousands of ‘half-widows, half-wives’ exist in limbo, not knowing the fate of their husbands. The disparate stories from the ‘world’s most secret war’ make tough but compelling terrain for a drama, and Indian director Ashvin Kumar has managed to forge them into something surprisingly clear-eyed and thought-provoking.
It’s told from the perspective of Noor (Zara La Peta Webb), a British teen of Kashmiri descent, whose father was snatched years earlier. On a visit to her grandparents, she befriends another ‘half-orphan’, Majid (Shivam Raina), and together they set out to pierce the silence in their community. But their efforts are met with hostility, and Noor’s penchant for snapping pictures with her smartphone – a harmless habit back in Blighty – puts the pair in mortal danger.
‘No Fathers in Kashmir’ tackles the conflict’s human cost in a sensitive, non-partisan way, notably when the idealistic Brit accuses Majid’s uncle of selling out her father only to be confronted with an altogether murkier reality. The actors are excellent, but I was particularly taken with one; when I checked the end credits, it turned out to be the writer-director himself, in the pivotal role of Majid’s uncle. Clearly Kumar – already an Oscar nominee for Best Short Film – is a talent to watch.