Article 370 Review: An Action Adventure and a Love Letter

Starring Yami Gautam Dhar and Priya Mani, the film makes a valiant effort to make the passing of a bill in the Rajya Sabha seem like an adventure.
Article 370 Review: An Action Adventure and a Love Letter

Director: Aditya Suhas Jambhale

Writers: Aditya Dhar, Monal Thaakar, Arjun Dhawan, Aditya Suhas Jambhale, Aarsh Vora

Cast: Yami Gautam Dhar, Priya Mani, Arun Govil, Kiran Karmakar

Duration: 160 mins

Available in: Theatres

In the year of our Lord and our general elections, it is no doubt simply a matter of serendipity that we’ve got a film in which actor Arun Govil, best known for playing Ram in the teleserial Ramayana, is cast as the Prime Minister of India. That Ram is the current administration’s favourite from the Hindu divine pantheon and that Govil quite literally brings together Lord Ram and the Prime Minister into one person must be a complete coinkidink. Although he makes his entry relatively late in Article 370, it’s clear that Govil is playing a character that is the film’s beating heart. The Prime Minister gets the slow-mo shots, the adoring close-ups, and multiple scenes to establish his status as a crush-worthy leader who had apparently spent 30 years dreaming of abrogating the article of the Indian Constitution that accorded special status to Jammu and Kashmir. However, as writer Aditya Dhar clarified while promoting Article 370, the film’s fandom for the Prime Minister and the timing of its release are a matter of coincidence. “The current government does not need a small film to win an election,” said Dhar at a press event.

It’s worth noting that Article 370 isn’t enamoured by the Prime Minister alone. The Home Minister, impersonated by Kiran Karmakar, is also depicted as a heroic second-in-command. More importantly, in terms of screen time, Article 370 is held aloft by two women who fight tirelessly and selflessly for their beliefs. One navigates the corridors of power and the other is an action hero. Both these characters could easily have been written as men — the political thriller has long been male-dominated and Dhar is the writer-director of the testosterone extravaganza that was Uri: The Surgical Strike (2019) — but to Dhar’s credit, he imagines these key behind-the-scenes players as women. Refreshingly, these characters steer clear of the standard tropes of needing to juggle home and work, or being saddled with a romantic subplot. Instead, director Aditya Suhas Jambhale films the two women as traditional male action heroes have been depicted in the genre, focusing on their grit and single-minded dedication to their job. And in Priya Mani’s case, the power-dressing move that is the perfectly-pleated sari. 

Yami Gautam Dhar in Article 370
Yami Gautam Dhar in Article 370

Unity in Diversity

Spanning from 2016 to 2019, Article 370 is an action adventure that would have you believe parliamentary politics is as exciting as a spy thriller. Although real-life incidents are referenced in the film, the world of Article 370 is largely fictional. Here, there is no glass ceiling for women bureaucrats; journalists raise questions without fear of government censure or trolling; and Kashmiris are depicted in the film as either caricatures of villainy or swooning with love for the Central government in India. 

Powering the film are intelligence officer Zooni (Yami Gautam Dhar) and Rajeshwari (Priya Mani), joint secretary in the Prime Minister’s office (PMO) — two women from two ends of the country who are united in their conviction that scrapping Article 370 will solve all of Kashmir’s problems. Little do they know that terror recruitment and numbers of casualties in IED blasts would see jumps between 2019 and 2022 before finally falling in 2023. Or that the elections for Kashmir’s legislative assembly would keep getting pushed and there would be a brutal crackdown on local journalists after Article 370 was abrogated. However, all this is in the non-fiction realm, which is perhaps beyond the purview of a mainstream movie (even though Article 370 does choose to end with a carefully selected set of headlines that imply Kashmir as a union territory is as happy and peaceful as Teletubby-land). 

Article 370 begins with the daredevil Zooni, who is as comfortable going undercover in a burqa as she is in a bulletproof vest with a gun in her hand. She breaks the chain of command to carry out a raid that turns into an encounter. The casualties include a militant named Burhan Wani, whose death plunges Kashmir into violent chaos. “You didn’t kill Burhan. You made him a martyr,” Zooni’s superior tells her before assigning her to do boring security detail as punishment. Some time later, when she’s asked what she’d do differently if she could go back in time, Zooni (jaw squared, a steely glint in her eye) replies, “I wouldn’t have returned the body.” Lest you think everyone in Article 370 is as ruthless in their patriotism as Zooni, we’re told that the Prime Minister’s heart bleeds for Kashmir. “PM is very clear: What happened after Burhan must not be repeated,” says Rajeshwari sternly, before setting down instructions to implement plans aimed at improving infrastructure in Kashmir. The film takes great pains to show that rather than Kashmiri politicians, it is the Prime Minister, sitting in meeting rooms in Delhi, who works for the welfare of Kashmir.

A still from Article 370
A still from Article 370

Back to our leading ladies: After meeting Zooni, Rajeshwari decides the Kashmiri woman is the person she wants as the muscle in the mission to ensure Article 370 is abrogated in a way that is legally irreproachable and doesn’t cause unrest in Kashmir. The obstacles include grumpy librarians, intelligence failures, terrorists and of course, Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). Alongside the car chases, blasts and gunfights, there’s a valiant effort to make research and paperwork seem thrilling. At a moment that is supposed to be a veritable tizzy of intensity, a room full of bureaucrats and legal experts discover a government order. From 1958. With a missing sub-clause. You may now gasp loudly and clutch your pearls. A few minutes later, Zooni will go to a library to look for that order from 1958. She’ll walk into a section marked “Restricted Area”— not because it has any kind of danger associated with it, but because that part of the library is an archive. Does it feel like your heart is thumping? Or is that just Article 370’s background score?

The Soul of a Nation

Despite some awkward pacing and too many scenes in which the dialogues feel like lectures, Article 370 is not a dull exercise in image-building in its first half. That happens after interval, when the focus of the film shifts upon characters modelled on the Prime Minister and Home Minister. It’s worth noting the film ends with a close up of Govil as the Prime Minister, gazing into the distance. Yet despite the film’s commitment to glorifying real-life leaders, it’s the fiction that holds Article 370 together. There are some well-mounted action sequences that make sure the film isn’t overwhelmed by its wordiness, and watching two career women at work turns out to be surprisingly entertaining. Both Gautam Dhar and Priya Mani make good use of the opportunities given to them. 

To the film’s credit, it doesn’t rely on tiresome tropes like the token good Muslim and neither is it as blinkered as Fighter (2024), which unquestioningly peddled the official narrative. Article 370 does hero worship our current leaders, but it also uses the character of journalist Brinda Ghosh (Iravati Harshe) to point out there have been civilian deaths and injuries from pellet guns in Kashmir, and that the responsibility for these lies with the Indian government. The film also suggests a terror plot like the 2019 bomb blast in Pulwama could not have been executed without an oversight by someone within the Indian ranks — this is established by Zooni, rather than an enemy of the state. Dhar’s story also gives this character with seemingly dubious allegiances a neat redemption arc, rather than making them the cardboard cutout of a villain. Article 370 reserves that sort of flattening for its terrorists and Kashmiri politicians.  

A still from Article 370
A still from Article 370

The Adventure of Ideas

Over the course of its duration, Article 370 justifies many questionable actions of government authorities, including the horrifying incident from 2017, when a Kashmiri man was tied to the front of an Indian Army Jeep and used as a human shield, allegedly to deter a crowd that was hurling stones at a column of Indian troops. In Article 370, a similar situation unfolds when a double agent, who has been working with both Indian and Pakistani authorities, is arrested. He makes a quick call and soon after, the convoy transporting him is faced with a mob of stone-pelters who attack one of the vehicles. To stop the rioters — who we are later told are misguided youth — the arrested man is used as a human shield. The Army officer who does this is later shown to be disturbed by his own actions, which is an attempt at complexity that is absent from most Hindi films made with the blessings of government departments.

Wittingly or unwittingly, one of the most poignant montages comes towards the end of Article 370, when politicians from all over India debate over Article 370 in the Rajya Sabha while the Kashmiris are under curfew and house arrest, or locked in a brutal battle that involves one Kashmiri pumping bullets into another. Everyone but the Kashmiris gets to vote on what should happen with Kashmir’s special status while in Kashmir, those who are actually affected by the decision find themselves isolated and surrounded by violence. 

With a runtime of two hours and 40 minutes, Article 370 is a long film about a long game. It teeters between an unabashed adoration of a particular brand of political power and a commitment to delivering an entertaining political drama. The balance is a difficult one to achieve, but in its first half, Article 370 almost manages it. When Article 370 works, it’s not because of its politics, but because of the slick filmmaking. When the film’s narrative allows itself to open up to the idea of complexity, Article 370 becomes momentarily better than the sum of its parts. It turns out there’s a quote by the first Prime Minister of India Jawaharlal Nehru that offers pertinent wisdom to mainstream cinema, standing at the crossroads of contemporary current affairs: “There is no end to the adventures we can have if only we seek them with our eyes open.” 

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