The Kashmir conundrum
Independent filmmakers Pankaj Butalia and Ashvin Kumar whose films were in the news recently, share their thoughts with The Guide on the complex situation in Kashmir, censorship by the state and the thought-provoking genre of documentaries that hope to break the paranoia of fear that shrouds the Valley
Pankaj butalia on the textures of loss
Pankaj Butalia, who has directed several critically acclaimed documentaries including Moksha, which was based on the widows of Vrindavan, has now brought forward the tragedies and violence faced by the people of Kashmir in his new documentary, The Textures Of Loss.
“I started a film in 2005 on Manipur (Manipur Song) and while shooting that I decided to make one on Kashmir as well. This film brings forth the impact of the conflict on the psyche, thinking and lifestyle of the people of Kashmir,” explains Butalia, who while shooting realised the difference between the conflicts of Manipur and Kashmir. He reveals that while the vibe in Manipur is combative, in Kashmir it’s that of resignation.
Butalia shot extensively between 2005-2007, but then had to cease the shoot owing to lack of funds and for two years the film was in doldrums. “Then, the stone pelting incident happened in Kashmir, which I thought had to be covered in the film. So I went back and met families of people who were killed during those incidents to incorporate their ordeal,” he informs.
Although Butalia is not from the state and doesn’t understand the language, he didn’t let these factors pose as impediments. “If you talk to people, let them say what they want to, explain to them about your work and build trust; eventually, they will open up. Obviously, you cannot arrive and start rolling. You need to work on trust, otherwise even if they speak to you, it will be on a superficial level,” he advises.
However, there was a time when Butalia was at the receiving end. “What struck me while shooting in Kashmir was that the Army convoy, when on the road, is always the king. When Army trucks pass, no one else is supposed to come in between. Their presence can be overwhelming, even scary. I wanted to capture that sentiment in the film,” he reveals.
Adding, the filmmaker shares that there was a day when he saw an Army convoy passing by. Each truck had a marksman to check if anyone or anything suspicious is around as they pass. Hence one needs to be extra careful with the placement of the camera, because if it looks like a gun from a distance, you can land in trouble. “So I kept trying different situations to grab footage. Finally, I I was able to capture the convoy. But my camera was spotted and soon, I was surrounded by the Army.”
As a result, Butalia had to delete a major chunk of that footage, but he managed to retain about 20 seconds of it, which is shown in the film.
Ashvin kumar on the inshallah series
Laurels don’t rest easy neither does pedigree (he is the son of fashion designer Ritu Kumar). Fervid, articulate and driven Ashvin Kumar has been in the news for his second consecutive win at the National Awards. The nomination for the 2004 Academy Awards for his short film The Little Terrorist, didn’t jade his strife to alleviate oppression. He shares his insight about his two-part documentary series: Inshallah Football (2010) and Inshallah Kashmir (2012).
He shares, “I was in Kashmir in 2009 with my written script. The moment I landed I realised that it had to be trash-canned. Soon, I stumbled upon the story of this coach (Juan Marcos Troia) who was training kids among which one couldn’t obtain a visa as his father was a much-wanted leader of a militant group. As I was covering the protagonist, we saw that there was much beyond this. Finally I had 300 hours of footage but as Inshallah Football was related to the protagonist, it couldn’t be used.”
On the Kashmir issue he comments, “I am dismayed by the current condition. I am a patriotic Indian as much as anyone who shouts from the rooftop. But my patriotism comes from shame.” Kumar calls attention to the present empowered position of the Armed Forces that has led to them almost dictating policies on Kashmir. Impassioned, he utters, “We haven’t given Kashmir its birth right. We suppress those who come out of Kashmir and want to discuss their story. There is no democracy; people live under stress.”
When asked about how he was able to shoot these candid interviews of Inshallah Kashmir, his tenor abates, “We were followed around.” Intrigued about the sources of sensitive information, the muted stance was ominous. He asserts that mainstream media neglects the true portrayal. To avoid his previous bouts with the censors, Kumar released the film online, on January 26.
“I’m more interested in the youth who browse online today. We should cultivate empathy so you can say that if this cannot happen in Delhi, how can it happen in Srinagar,” he asks.