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Vivek Agnihotri on threats to his life post The Kashmir Files; says, “Recently two boys barged into our office, they pushed my manager…”

Pinning down Vivek Agnihotri for an interview was not easy. The Kashmir Files has turned Vivek’s life inside out. But he hasn’t changed. “You know me from the time I made Chocolate in 2005. Even back then I couldn’t fit into the Bollywood mould. When I started my journey 17 years ago I decided I will make my kind of films and I will never make a star-driven film. I firmly believe cinema is the writer and director’s medium.”

The Kashmir Files is not a film. It’s a movement. Vivek is filled with gratitude at the stupendous success that’s come his way. “Audiences the world over are watching the film in pin drop silence. 3 hours and 50 minutes is not a joke. People are reaching out to Kashmiri Pandits all over the world. Why is it working so well in Canada? It started with two shows. Now it’s more than ninety shows. The film has connected Indians in conversations and debates everywhere. Ramu (Ram Gopal Varma) has made a video on the success of The Kashmir Files where he says why he hates my film. It’s a brilliant review. We were working on The Kashmir Files for four years. We used our own money. We mortgaged our home. We went to many parts of the world for research. And after all the expenses we didn’t even know what was going to come out of it.”

Vivek had great difficulty in getting a producer on board. “But finally we had Abhishek Agarwal who came on board unconditionally. Then after the film was half-complete Zee also came on board. Bollywood producers wanted me to make typical potboilers which we were unwilling to do. We decided we will make our own research-based films with self-generated funds. This was our decision in 2010. We then made Buddha In The Traffic JamThe Tashkent Files and now The Kashmir Files. Then The Delhi Files.”

Vivek admits he is clueless as to why Bollywood follows the star system and pays actors in multi-crores. “I resigned from Bollywood long ago. Even while promoting The Kashmir Files my wife (actress Pallavi Joshi) and I do the needful. Because we believe we are the creators of the product. We need actors not stars in our films.”

Vivek admits there were threats to his wellbeing after the controversial success of The Kashmir Files. “Yes, there have been threats. Recently two boys barged into our office when my wife and I were not there. Only a manager, a middle aged lady was here. They pushed her with the door, she fell they asked for me and then fled. I never spoke about this incident because I didn’t want such elements to get any publicity. I told them not to bother with the security. But they said they have to.”

The filmmaker won’t be flogging the ‘Files’ franchise further. “Coming up next is The Delhi Files and then I am done with the Files trilogy. No power on earth and no amount of money can persuade me to turn the Files into a franchise. It was always meant to be a trilogy. Nothing can change that. Those who know me from before would know that I’ve been making the films that I want to make for the last ten years. I am the last person who is going to think, ‘The audience is addicted to the franchise, so let’s make one more.’ I will never do that.”

So the Files are closed? “The Trilogy was planned as a trilogy. One day I was looking the three pillars of democracy: truth, justice and life. The Files trilogy was born from this tenet. The Tashkent Files was about the right to truth. The Kashmir Files is about the right to justice. The Delhi Files will be on the right to life. The fourth pillar of democracy is the audience. Let them decide what they want to see.”

Not just his film, Vivek feels the pandemic has changed the grammar of cinema entertainment. “Covid also changed a lot of things. Audiences are not going to clap for crap. You see for us (Vivek and Pallavi) cinema is not about networking and socializing, we don’t party. We don’t drink. We haven’t slept for more than four hours since we started working on Kashmir Files, not because we were out partying but because we were constantly checking and re-checking the logistics of the writing filming and release. We started with a mere 600 screens. Then suddenly it became a B and C centre film as well. So we had to provide screens to those centres.”

Lots of people are saying that the film is getting a tax exemption because of Vivek’s closeness to the BJP. Vivek vehemently opposes this view. “No! That’s not true. That’s the Government’s acknowledgement of of the film’s relevance. If they don’t make the film tax-free their voters would rebel against them.”

As for The Kashmir Files being labelled anti-Muslim Vivek protests, “Our intention was never to malign any community. I have not even spoken against Pakistan in my film. I believe my audience is intelligent enough to know that the villain in The Kashmir Files is terrorism. There is a line in my film where a character says even Muslims and other communities apart from Hindus are victims of terrorism. I will tell you one more secret. You remember the scene on a shikara where a Kashmiri tells Darshan Kumar what he (the Kashmiri) thinks about the situation. I told the Kashmiri to say everything that he feels. I told him to write the dialogues himself. That was a real Kashmiri Muslim boy who lives in Srinagar. And yet if the film is being branded anti-Islam then that’s politics. I am okay with that. What matters to me is that the film is reaching out and touching hearts. An 85-year old man and his 75-year wife who had never stepped into a cinema went to see The Kashmir Files. That is my real achievement. The film has gone to the villages now.”

The Kashmir Files has reactivated the mass exodus into the theatres? Vivek is reluctant to take credit for it. “I had been fighting with the I & B Ministry in Delhi, Maharashtra government to reopen theatres after Covid. Nobody was listening. Then I fought for a hundred percent attendance in theatres while everyone was busy collecting fat pay cheques by selling their films on the OTT. They wanted to know why was Vivek fighting for re-opening of theatres? They said he was not getting any buyers on OTT, that’s why he was fighting for theatre. But I knew cinema needed to be revived. Today they are saying footfalls in not just the cinemas but shopping falls have revived because of The Kashmir Files.”

When I bring up the lack of support for the film from within the industry Vivek has a priceless explanation. “I resigned from Bollywood in 2010. We are a very small boutique filmmaking house. We make cinema out of passion. I am happy I don’t have friends in Bollywood. If I did I would somewhere be tempted to make them happy by making what they want me to make. Right now as I talk to you I can make lots and lots money and go home happy. But I can’t do that. It’s not in my DNA.”

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