Article 370 movie review: Flawless Yami Gautam elevates this well-made but uneven thriller on Kashmir's special status

Yami Gautam and Priya Mani's flawless acts elevate Aditya Suhas Jambhale's Article 370, a smartly-made but uneven political thriller.

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Director: Aditya Suhas Jambhale

Cast: Yami Gautam, Priya Mani, Vaibhav Tatwawadi, Kiran Karmakar, Arun Govil, Raj Zutshi, Divya Seth, Skand Sanjeev Thakur

Where to watch: Theatres

Rating: 3.5 stars

It is a difficult prospect reviewing a film like Article 370 because it is much more than just about the craft and technical aspects here. The film claims to be based on true events but packages real headlines with fictitious events in a way that it borders on spreading fake narratives. But it stops just short of that, never fully descending into propaganda territory. What makes the job tougher in analysing a film like Article 370 is that despite these flaws, it is a technically well-made film, packed with great performances, seamless direction, and a solid background score. At the front of it are two great acts from the leads – Yami Gautam and Priya Mani.

Article 370 follows Kashmiri intelligence officer Zooni Haksar (Yami), who was responsible for the capture and killing of militant commander Burhan Wani. Having been shunted to Delhi years ago, Zooni is brought back to Kashmir by senior bureaucrat Rajeshwari (Priya Mani), who is shepherding the Indian government’s efforts to abrogate Article 370 in the Valley. How Zooni thwarts militants attempts to foil their plan and Rajeshwari finds legal loopholes to proceed the abrogation forms the plot of Article 370.

Let’s be honest and admit that the abrogation of Article 370 in Jammu and Kashmir was a contentious moment in modern Indian history. Reports say that incidents of violence have gone down in the Valley and tourism has increased. But critics argue that all this has come at the cost of civil liberties, led by the largest communications clampdown in the country’s history. This coin has two sides but Article 370 shows us just one. That is the filmmaker’s choice, of course.

Article 370 excels when it is being a thriller. In moments where we are seeing cat-and-mouse chase across our screens and gun battles in the streets of Srinagar, it is as thrilling and exciting as anything we have seen in Hindi cinema in recent times. One sequence in particular – the CRPF’s encounter of Burhan Wani – evokes memories of Uri’s best sequences. Shot in the dark with great cinematography and haunting score, it is one of the film’s high points.

The film falters when it tries to get political. Because at this point, it resorts to boring tropes, caricatures, and over-the-top acting, gimmicks that lesser films have used in the recent past. Suddenly, the film descends from being a slick thriller to an almost political spoof with cartoonish ‘villains’ thrown in. Its treatment of actors of the calibre of Raj Zutshi and Divya Seth (who play two former J&K CMs) is laughable. The veteran actors are reduced to playing caricatures, while the others are given more sedate, polished arcs. The contrast between the suave heroes and the over-the-top villains is too jarring to ignore.

The one surprise act in the film is Kiran Karmakar, who plays India’s Union Home Minister, a character clearly modelled on Amit Shah. His body language, dialogue delivery, and even voice modulation is on point. Arun Govil’s PM Modi act is balanced but largely unmemorable in contrast.

Apart from the film’s two lead actresses, its biggest stars are cinematographer Siddharth Vasani and composer Shashwat Sachdev. The combination of frames and background score these two conjure elevate Article 370 to more than just watchable, making it a taut thriller. Director Aditya Suhas Jamhbale also deserves credit for keeping the pacing quick and the narrative crisp, despite his obvious tendencies to go over in the dramatic moments. Producer Aditya Dhar’s influence on the film is obvious too.

Article 370 follows the template set by Uri and The Kashmir Files down to the T. It is a slick, smartly-packaged film that features some powerful performances and great technical aspects. Yet, it muddles its narrative with political undertones which is where the film falters the only time.

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