Terror and tourism - these are the two things we think of when it comes to Kashmir, India’s northern-most state. While news reports may suggest that militancy has reduced, and that tourism is returning, there’s another side to the situation, warns Ajay Raina. “The peace in Kashmir is one of desolation. It has created a sense of false hope,” he says.
“It is important to talk about the stark realities in the state including both sides - of hope as well as the utter despair in the valley,” adds the Kashmiri filmmaker, who now lives in Mumbai.
It is to portray these realities and to encourage dialogue about them that Raina and fellow filmmaker Pankaj Rishi Kumar decided to curate a three-day Kashmiri film festival. “There are several interesting independently-produced Kashmiri films, which have been screened in isolation in the past. But we believe this is the first time an initiative has been taken to curate and screen these films together,” says Raina. The festival, he adds, includes movies made between 1947 and 2013.
Five films will be screened today, with Sanjay Kak’s Jashn-e-Azaadi kicking off the festival’s concluding day. Kak’s 2007 film talks of the celebration, or rather the lack thereof, of Independence Day in Kashmir. Jashn-e-Azaadi is followed by Kumar’s 2001 film Pather Chu Jaeri (The Play is On). “Both movies use similar symbols, but portray different ideas of Kashmir. We hope this enables the audience to get a different perspective of the situation in the state. For when the films are seen independently, only one side is portrayed while the other remains shadowed,” opines Raina.
Painting a slightly more optimistic picture, Pather Chu Jaeri follows two folk theatre groups - Wathora and Akingam in Kashmir, who are pursuing their passion to perform despite stern opposition from both Hindu and Muslim fundamentalists in the area.
“While the scripts they perform are ancient - passed down from their ancestors - the performers inevitably burst into political commentary in the middle of the play. While I was shooting in 2001, I found that most of the bhand (performers) are daily wage labourers who do the Pather (play) to follow their passion.
At the time there were about 12 groups that continued to perform despite the opposition,” says Kumar. The director insists that while his film depicts the survival of art in a regime of fear, overall the scenario is extremely bleak. “The artistes are constantly being targeted by fundamentalists and unfortunately, I can’t be sure how many have been able to continue their performances,” he adds.
Raina’s Apour Ti Yapour, which explores why certain Kashmiris would much rather be part of Pakistan or be independent than be part of India, is the third non-fiction film of the day. “I realised that it was more than just about feeling unhappy about India. But I made two other films in the region before I could gather the courage to get the people to talk about their overwhelming desire to be disconnected with India,” reveals Raina. The festival closes with two of the most recent Kashmiri fiction films - 23 Winters and Valley of Saints. Discussions with journalists Kalpana Sharma and Dilip D’Souza, as well as Q&A sessions with the directors between screenings will facilitate the discourse about the films and the situation in Kashmir.
The screenings begin at 2.15 pm at RR Theatre , Films Division of India, Peddar Road. Entry is free.