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Filmmakers Explain Why Art In Kashmir Is Inseparable From Resistance

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By Abhishek Jha:

Editor’s Note:
As part of our coverage of PSBT’s Open Frame Film Festival And Forum 2016 that is going on in Delhi (13th – 20th September), Youth Ki Awaaz will be featuring reviews of films and interviews with directors. This year’s theme is “Reflections and Ruminations”.

Soz, explains, can qualify a noun as ‘inflaming’ or ‘exciting’. It is also a noun. ‘Passion’, ‘vexation’, ‘a dirge’, ‘one who chants a dirge’, ‘chanting a dirge’- all go by soz. It is also the name of Tushar Madhav and Sarvnik Kaur’s new documentary on Kashmiri artists subtitled ‘A Ballad of Maladies’. In  exploring the work of these artists and the nuances their respective art-forms share with their past, the film narrates how a counter-history of the people of the valley has been crafted along the history of those who ruled it over time.

“I’d be lying if I said that I wasn’t mesmerized by the sheer mystique one commonly associates with Kashmir,” Madhav confesses in an e-mail interview, answering what his inspiration for making the documentary was. While Kaur shares that she “won’t be able to expound upon the inspiration behind making this film”, Madhav was motivated by Kashmiri music and poetry. For both the filmmakers, however, the process of making the documentary turned out to be a process of unlearning.

Kaur says she grew up in a family where the men in uniform “were to be revered and not feared”. But in Kashmir she felt an “omnipotent ‘gaze'” that followed them everywhere. “As a woman in a heavily militarized zone, I could feel the close connection between modern forms of male domination over women and modern war,” she says. They were even then not subjected to the kind of harassment he has heard their Kashmiri friends face, Madhav says, “except for some regular checks and a small line of questioning at a time we were capturing a military garrison in the main city”.

The documentary, ostensibly on the artists of Kashmir, is also a narration of the history of the conflict in the valley. “I haven’t made a song on anything normal, you know. Everything is conflict, conflict, conflict. And it’s true that I cannot think of anything else,” Roushan Illahi, who is more popularly known by his stage-name MC Kash, says in the film. In documenting these voices, Kaur says, they have attempted a departure from “the deliberate and a very constructed image of Kashmir in popular media”.

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“And with a cultural, religious and geopolitical history as rich as Kashmir’s, it is also very difficult to ignore its relationship with the various art forms that one finds in the valley,” Madhav explains. Central Asian influences are evident in Kashmiri motifs, patterns and poetry, he says, and devotional Sufiyana Mosuqi is sung in Persian even today in the shrines of Kashmir. Roushan Illahi once told him that he considers himself an Angrezi Ladishah. In bringing together over half a dozen artists (Zareef Ahmad Zareef, the septuagenarian poet and satirist; Rashid Bhat- taxi driver, tour guide, poet; Showkat Kathju, performance artist and lecturer; Gulzar Bhat, Ladishaah and Bhaand artist; Khalid Ahamed and Kashif Iqbal, vocalist and guitarist respectively from the rock band Parvaaz; and Mir Suhail, cartoonist), the film then also ends up introducing one to the religious, cultural, and political history of the valley through the voice of these artists.

Kaur also notes that art, which is “emerging as a forceful form of non-violent protest all over the world”, has been wielded as a weapon in Kashmir for centuries. Music, theatre, and poetry has been used “to disseminate news, construct public opinions and also as a form of protest”.

What do the two filmmakers then think is wrong with the role Indian media plays in Kashmir and what role should it play? Kaur says that the “valley is either ‘under’ or ‘wrongly’ represented in the Indian mainstream media”. As an instance she cites the coverage of the floods in 2014 there, where, she says, the reporting on the rescue efforts by the armed forces was “grossly over-rated”. Madhav also says that the “problem is not merely with the ‘exoticization’ of Kashmir in Bollywood movies” but also “the pre-conditioning of Indian media while reporting from Kashmir”. “The Kashmiris have become vary of the Indian media and for a good reason too,” Kaur says.

Both filmmakers therefore urge the Indian media to take to honest story-telling, one which acknowledges the human rights abuses and stifling of individual liberty and “steers away from the rhetoric of pointing out religious polarities”.

Catch Tushar Madhav and Sarvnik Kaur’s film “Soz- A Ballad of Maladies” at 07:00 pm on September 20 at India International Centre. To see the full Open Frames Festival programme, click here.

Featured image: Screenshot from video shared by Flying Ice on Vimeo.

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