Yami Gautam on Hit Kashmir Political Thriller ‘Article 370’ and Middle East Ban: ‘Nothing Offensive in the Film’ (EXCLUSIVE)

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Bollywood star Yami Gautam reveals her process in making “Article 370” and has addressed the issue of the film being banned in the Middle East.

A political action thriller, the film deals with the events leading to the 2019 revocation of Article 370 of the Indian constitution, which granted special status to the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir, some parts of which are under dispute between India, Pakistan and China since independence from the British Empire in 1947.

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Gautam plays Kashmiri Indian National Intelligence Agency officer Zooni Haksar who is sent back to Kashmir by Prime Minister’s Office official Rajeshwari Swaminathan (Priyamani, “Jawan”) on a mission to achieve the revocation with minimal bloodshed.

Directed by Aditya Suhas Jambhale, who previously directed several shorts, the film is written by Aditya Dhar, Jambhale, Arjun Dhawan and Monal Thaakar. Dhar, who is married to Gautam, is known for writing and directing “Uri: The Surgical Strike,” a 2019 action film depicting India-Pakistan military clashes. It is produced by Aditya Dhar and Lokesh Dhar for B62 Studios and Jyoti Deshpande for billionaire Mukesh Ambani’s Jio Studios.

“Zooni Haksar can be a [Hindu] Kashmiri pandit, could be a Muslim, we’ve not disclosed that in the film, that’s up to the audience,” Gautam told Variety. Historically, Muslim-majority Kashmir has been a tinderbox, prone to lighting up at the slightest spark. “She’s a Kashmiri girl who’s been raised in that whole fabric of Kashmir that it stood for pre-370. I think we’ve seen some of the hardest times of course, courtesy of news channels and whatever information is there in the public domain. But, being a child who has seen it firsthand, it’s a very different experience,” Gautam said.

The actor, who has been acclaimed for her performances in “Uri,” “Lost” (2022) and “Chor Nikal Ke Bhaga” (2023), says that her character is “complex,” with no shades of gray. “It’s crystal clear about what she believes and in terms of how she sees Kashmir, or how she wishes to see Kashmir. Maybe she represents something that everybody wishes out there. She embodies those sentiments in that character,” Gautam said, adding that she strove to keep her performance internal. Physically, Gautam was trained by top Indian army personnel, starting with how to hold guns.

The film was made for a modest $2.4 million and has already grossed $6.2 million in a week of release. This is despite being denied access to the Gulf markets, which are teeming with Indian and Pakistani migrant workers and which routinely ban Indian films with any political references to Pakistan.

“We really didn’t anticipate this because we feel there is nothing in the film, which is offensive. The way it’s performing here in India, I don’t see anybody being offended with the film,” Gautam said. “In fact, people are putting out the word that this is not a propaganda film. [Nevertheless] there will be some people who, without watching, will pass a judgement and we are used to it. And they are saying to themselves, you come out of the film feeling proud and patriotic. And this is something which led to very important peace and development in a state like Kashmir.”

“It’s a matter of perspective – what might be jingoism for somebody, is patriotism for me,” Gautam added. She describes the act of watching “Article 370” in a packed cinema as one of her “best experiences in recent times.” “We were all clapping and hooting and they’re all strangers sitting next to each other, but if you can infuse that feeling of oneness, that you feel good about something, I think that’s an achievement. I like to see the bigger story, the positive story, and go home with that,” Gautam said.

The dramatis personae in “Article 370” include an Indian Prime Minister clearly modelled on Narendra Modi, played by Arun Govil, who is best known for playing Lord Rama in the Doordarshan TV series “Ramayan”; and a Home Minister who bears a striking resemblance to Amit Shah, India’s real life incumbent in the position. Modi referenced the film in one of his recent speeches.

“It was a very special moment. I take it with a lot of humility and also validation definitely in the sense we knew we were doing something important, we knew it’s going to start some debates,” Gautam said. “It is really important and not just for Kashmiris, but everybody. What does it mean for an Indian, because it is a trickle effect and it affects all of us somewhere in some aspect or another.”

Next up for Gautam is Rishab Seth’s caper comedy “Dhoom Dhaam,” also from B62 and Jio.

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