Time and again, Kashmir, with its beauty and age-old turmoil, gives us stories which make us think hard and reflect long after we’re done reading or watching them. Zee5’s Web series Kaafir, starring Dia Mirza and Mohit Raina, brings to us one such tale. In February, Dia’s performance in Kaafir led her to win the Dadasaheb Phalke award for Best Actress in a Web Series. The best thing about Kaafir is that it does not solely focus on controversial territorial disputes or relations, but also gives deeper insight into human relations and emotions.
Directed by Sonam Nair and written by Bhavani Iyer (co-writer, Raazi), Kaafir, which first premiered exactly a year ago, will always be a relevant watch. Carrying an essential female voice, the eight-episode show is an honest assessment around gender, human relations, effects of war, love, injustices, and what it means to be human.
Inspired by a true story set in 2005, the series documents the journey of Kainaaz Akhtar (Dia Mirza), a resident of Kashmir, on Pakistan’s side, who, after jumping into a river, finds herself on the Indian side of the border and is declared a militant soon after. Despite maintaining her innocence, Kainaaz spends eight years behind the bars, giving birth and raising her daughter, Sehar (Dishita Jain) in prison, with a hope of returning to her home with her daughter. It is when lawyer-turned journalist Vedant Rathod (Mohit Raina) learns of her story and is determined to bring her justice, that her hope sees the light of the reality.
“Log ladte hai milne ke khaatir, par apni toh bichhad jaane ki ladaai thi” (People wage wars to unite with each other, but ours was a fight of separation)
The preceding extract from Swanand Kirkire’s poem in the show summarises the bond between Kainaaz and Vedant. Heartbreaking on many accounts, Kainaaz and Vedant’s romantic saga coming to an end at the Indo-Pak border is painfully understandable. Clinging onto the ‘what-ifs’, their story portrays a couple’s journey of empowering each other, and this empowerment is undoubtedly a major takeaway from the show.
Bold, honest statements and gender violence
As the digital space is hustling with bringing forward significant content, the writer and director have both brought forward a narrative addressing gender oppression as well.
The series underlines the age-old atrocities that women face across nations because of patriarchy. There is an unsettling sequence where Kainaaz’s husband and his family forsake her on the assumption that she is infertile, it is heart-wrenching but not surprising. It narrates the ordeal of several women who face gender violence in one form or another.
There is a powerful scene where Kainaaz faces her rapist fearlessly. Her eyes reveal the violence, betrayal and humiliation she faced at the hands of the man. In another interesting bit, an episode showcases a well-executed courtroom scene where Vedant, with his arguments, is bent on convincing the judge of Kainaaz’s innocence at the Jammu and Kashmir High Court. A point he presses upon is that Kainaaz cannot be termed a militant just because she is from Pakistan.
“Kudrat sabh ke liye ek hai, insaan hi lakeere banata hai. (Nature treats everyone the same, humans are the ones who draw borders)” – Kainaaz
Heartwarming love story
The simmering romance between Kainaaz and Vedant is heartening to watch as they set out to get justice for Kainaaz and gain social acceptance for her daughter. The spoken and unspoken conversations between the two make it seem like they belong, and then the realities around their respective lands hit them hard.
Sisterhood and supporting cast
A notable female character is Kainaaz’s prison mate, Fatima (Faezeh Jalali). Their scenes not only show great power of sisterhood but also a silent, deep understanding of each other’s emotional trauma.
The entire supporting cast from Vedant’s family, to the cameraman and friend, and the neighbours, is applaudable. There’s a sequence where an angry mob attacks Kainaaz’s rented house, writing slogans like ‘atankvaadi‘ owing to her neighbour Suri’s death in a militant bus attack. It’s in between this, vengeance that the neighbourhood women come out in support of her with Suri’s wife shouting to the raging crowd, “None of you can bring me justice with her death, she is innocent. Who are you all to decide whether she ought to live or not?” It’s a scene which sure makes the viewers introspect in more ways than one.
Amidst the trauma, Kainaaz’s intensity strikes out in magnificent ways, and this is where Dia’s strength of absorbing the character comes alive on screen. Alongside her effective dialogue delivery and moving performance as a mother, it is her silence, in some scenes, which is equally convincing. Kainaaz may have been a victim amidst the cracks in the systems, but she emerges as a survivor every step of the way. Child artist Dishita Jain’s innocence dives right into Sehar’s role, making her look so endearing on-screen.
Mohit Raina puts up a significant performance as Vedant. Alongside playing a determined companion seeking justice for Kainaaz, he also does right by his layered character who is suffering owing to his brother’s demise at the hands of the militant whom he helped get acquitted.
While the background score enhances the emotions on screen, it’s the cinematography by Pratik Shah that constructively captures the essence of snow-covered hills dividing borders, the people and their struggles. The interesting factor in the story is the flashbacks we see through Kainaaz’s thoughts enabling the viewers to understand the circumstances leading to her imprisonment and distress over time.
As a narrative, it’s a solid attempt in manifesting hope and humanity within mindsets that are overpowered by hatred.
The ending leaves you teary-eyed, especially because it ends on a major note as Vedant reads the poem Kaafir.
Photo credit: Zee5
The views expressed are the author’s own.