ByÂ Raju Moza:
Ajay Raina is the co-curator of the successful film festival “Kashmir Before Our Eyes”, which travelled to six cities and was in news for good as well bad reasons. (The Hyderabad screening was vandalized by some“right wing elements”). It was first of its kind festival which showed films about various narratives emanating from Kashmir, be it exile and exodus of Kashmiri pundits or women who had to endure a lot in this conflict. The festival also incorporated book discussions, music and paintings.
RM: Tell us about the genesis of Kashmir Before Our Eyes?
AR: I was the part of a reconciliation group on Facebook; which apparently had various artists in it. I tried to get in touch with some of them so that something related to Kashmir could be done. Not necessarily a film festival; but I didn’t get any positive response from anyone there, except from Siddhartha Gigoo. (Siddhartha is the director of a critically acclaimed short film ‘The Last day’). I had a vague idea about doing something related to Kashmir and art, but there wasn’t any definitive shape in my mind.
Then how did the idea of Kashmir Before Our Eyes, take the present shape.
One of my friends Pankaj Reshi, who is the fellow curator of this film festival as well, is the part of a film society known as FD zone in Mumbai and they regularly screen movies. He suggested that I can screen my films there, and then we thought why not to screen films involving Kashmir from other film makers as well. That’s how Kashmir Before Our Eyes took present shape.
Was a multi city screening of the film festival planned?
No, the original idea was just to screen for FD zone in Mumbai, but the response here was overwhelming and we got people contacting us for various cities. The new city roll out just happened by accident.
In Hyderabad, the venue was vandalized. Did you feel bad that a fellow community member was leading the opposition that too when you were showing the trauma of exile and exodus?
Just because he is a Kashmiri pundit or shares the story of my exodus, doesn’t necessarily mean I own him. I see Kashmir beyond religious divide.
On the first day, during the screening of a film based on the exile and exodus of Kashmiri pundits, I was there in the discussion and I got a feeling that you are viewed from the prism of being a Kashmiri pundit? Was this the reaction in other cities as well?
Yes, it’s a knee jerk reaction, without seeing the whole lot of films and the package. We need to own all stories from Kashmir be it of Kashmiri pundits or of Muslims. But then, when they see the other films, reactions are different.
I was totally numb seeing the Torn Tent (a short film about Kashmiri pundits living in camps), and the story of Shafiqa was emotionally draining (Shafiqa is a protagonist of the documentary Waiting, whose husband has disappeared). Did you see that such confluence of various narratives can actually lead to broader engagement about Kashmir?
Kashmir has no cinema history, no art event and no art movement. Overshadowed by violence and bitterness, they just tell you the story, multi texture stories which we need to hear across political or religious divide, and that will be a great beginning.
Lastly, isn’t it ironical that stories about Kashmir are yet to be screened in Kashmir? Are you planning to take this festival to Kashmir?
Yes, but we are trying to screen the films there.