A little boy can't stand it any longer. Mute witness to the terrorism in the Valley, the Kashmiri Pandit's son rips off the Pakistani flag waving on Indian soil.
Unlike other recent films on the mindless brutality of militancy, "Sheen" isn't a pretext for Pakistan-bashing. Nor does it turn terrorism into a formula. Ashok Pandit's "Sheen" goes into a grim and hitherto neglected aspect of militancy in the Kashmir Valley: the plight of the Hindu Kashmiri Pandits who became displaced and homeless refugees in their land.
Sad to say, the film doesn't really go down the steps of the political well to extract the water of wisdom. In telling the horrific tale of Pandit Amarnath (Raj Babbar) and his family's journey from well-settled bliss to displaced damnation, director Ashok Pandit resorts to several stock gimmicks of mainstream Hindi cinema, like a romance replete with the harvest of atonal love duets that leave the narration panting for breath.
Unlike other holocaustic romances like Vidhu Vinod Chopra's "1942: A Love Story", Anil Sharma's "Gadar" or Chandraprakash Diwedi's "Pinjar", or even Suhail Tatari's fine but neglected TV series "Kashmeer", "Sheen" has neither the essential raw material nor the talent and infrastructure to create a compelling portrait of an emotionally surcharged, lush and lyrical landscape scorched by clannish outrage and patriotic pride.
What "Sheen" has on its side is plenty of sincerity. The director's heart bleeds for a non-violent community rendered homeless by its non-aggressive stand and the hope that one day they'd one day return to the Valley of their dreams.
Raman Kumar's screenplay infuses poignant pockets into the flawed narrative. At the refugee camp Pandit Amarnath's wife (Kiran Joneja) keeps washing the keys to their home every morning. "This is my way of assuring myself that we'll be back home some day."
When Pandit Amarnath is about to leave his home in Kashmir with his family, his daughter hides in the favourite corner of the house and refuses to leave.
The sequence is directly inspired by the finest celluloid document on the wages of communal-political tension - M.S. Sathyu's "Garam Hawaa" where the reluctant Indian Muslim migrant, Balraj Sahni's old mother, hides in the kitchen when the family is about to migrate to Pakistan.
The poignancy of the family in "Sheen" migrating within their own country should have been far more intense. Somehow the impact of Ashok Pandit's hard-hitting treatise is blunted by the sheer humbug that creeps willy-nilly into the narrative. The central romance between the debutant pair is decimated by the callowness and lack of screen presence of the actors.
For a large part of the narrative, the male debutant Tarun Arora is kidnapped by militants and kept out of celluloid range.
We must thank the militants for sparing us the ordeal. The absence of a charming lead pair is one of the several impediments to the film's overall completeness as a socio-political statement on the expulsion of a people from their home. And yet if "Sheen" manages to strike a chord in the viewers' heart, it's because of the poignancy of the true life material that forms the core of Ashok Pandit's film.
The incidents, such as Pandit Amarnath's young son being killed by militants, appear to be straight out of newspaper headlines. To that extent they provide the plot with an urgency.
However, that imminence never acquires an intimacy. The characters don't connect with viewers' hearts. The background music (Tauseef Akhtar) and the cinematography (Nadeem Khan) do not lend the much-needed sense of credulity to the progressively melodramatic content.
Scenes of rioting and mob violence, so essential to showing the dehumanisation of a civilised society, make do with meagre crowds who form a scattered emblem of dissent rather than an assimilated fulcrum of drama and tension.
Budgetary constraints diminish much of the director's heartfelt pain. So do the performances. His off-and-on Kashmiri accent notwithstanding, Raj Babbar turns in the film's only convincing performance. The rest of the cast fails to come to grips with the enormity of the tragedy that Ashok Pandit addresses his cinema to.
In its fantasy conclusion, the film shows the broken but still hopeful Kashmiri Brahmin addressing a conference on the internally displaced in Geneva. At this point of the neatly edited (by Kuldeep Mehan) material we cannot but applaud the film and its director for picking on a cause that does not get much play in the media.
In one sequence, Pandit Amarnath asks the CEO of a news channel why terrorists are given so much coverage. The latter answers: "Because they give us sensational visuals. Why don't you do the same things - kill, loot and plunder - and we'll give the same coverage to Kashmiri Pandits?"