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Kashmir in six documentaries: More than a newspoint

From ‘Jashn-e-Azadi’ to ‘Mann Faqeeri’, here are six non-fiction titles that give some idea of the concerns and daily lives of people in the region

A still from 'Tell Them 'The Tree They Had Planted Has Now Grown''
A still from 'Tell Them 'The Tree They Had Planted Has Now Grown''

Exactly one year ago, the government of India passed a resolution abrogating the special status of the erstwhile state of Jammu & Kashmir under Article 370, and another converting the state in two Union Territories. Since that time, the region has been under varying degrees of lockdown, with restrictions placed on people and information—the 4G ban still persists.

We may not have much filmed evidence on how life was in Kashmir this past year, but conflict in the valley began long before 5 August 2019. For anyone looking to get a general idea about the region, there’s a wealth of non-fiction film. Here are six titles you can start with.

Kashmir: Journey to Freedom (2009)

Rife with controversy, as most documentaries on the region are, American-Israeli director Udi Aloni was disallowed by the Indian government to return to India after his Kashmir: Journey to Freedom was screened at the Berlin Film Festival in 2009. It is a collage of interviews and flashpoints—highlighting the foregoing of an armed resistance in the valley. It features the story of Yasin Malik, a former leader with the Jammu-Kashmir Liberation Front; Usmaan Raheem Ahmad, a young Kashmiri who grew up in the U.S., human rights advocates Fasiha Qadri and Altaf Khan; playwright Mohammed Amin Bhat; and cartoonist Malik Sajad, among others. Along with the conflict in the valley, it also looks back at the exodus of the Kashmiri Pandit community—through interviews and by taking viewers through the refugee camps in Jammu.

Mann Faqeeri (2012)

In this 58-minute documentary, actor and director M.K. Raina, who grew up in Srinagar, looks at the distinctive Sufiyana kalaam of Kashmir. The intermixing of Hindu, Islamic and Buddhist elements from Kashmir, Central Asia, Persia and the rest of India is unique to the region, though sustaining these practices is increasingly difficult. This elegant film, made for the Public Service Broadcasting Trust, focuses on the music, the poetry of Lal Ded and Nund Rishi, Bhand Pather folk theatre and other local traditions.

Tell Them 'The Tree They Had Planted Has Now Grown' (2001)

In this 2001 film, documentarian Ajay Raina returns to his home in Kashmir for the first time in 12 years. He’d had to flee, as so many Kashmiri Pandits did, in 1989. The film, with narration by Raina, is an intimate look at the human implications of that exodus, as well as a snapshot of a land still in turmoil. In one scene, Raina and his cameraman find themselves in the midst of a riot. “I was particularly struck by the casualness with which the policemen and the media were doing the job," he says. “I was the only greenhorn here." It’s quite heart-breaking to hear him say, “The growing feeling is not for revolt but for peace", knowing that, almost 20 years later, peace is yet to descend on the region.

Jashn-e-Azadi: How We Celebrate Freedom (2007)

Sanjay Kak’s documentary Jashn-e-Azadi, though made in 2007 when the valley was recovering from a period of prolonged violence between the 1990s and the early 2000s, is relevant even today. Centred around the longing, and eventually the fight for, freedom, Jashn-e-Azadi sets the context early, starting from 1947, when Kashmir found itself on the faultline between India and Pakistan, a year that also brought an end to the old feudal order—"the Muslim peasants had struggled against the oppression of their Hindu king". “The next 60 years saw that hope turn to discontentment with India, then masked resistance, and eventually, an armed struggle," says Kak, also the narrator. This nonlinear documentary jumps between footage from the '90s and the 2000s. From songs and slogans to the satirical sketches by folk performers and the protests with the now ubiquitous chants of “Hum kya chahte? Azadi", the film travels across time and tragedy, repression and resistance, poetry and possibility.

Inshallah, Football (2010)

Basharat Baba, or Basha, was only two months old in the early 90s, when his father, Bashir, left for the training camp in Pakistan and eventually became one of the leading commanders of the Hizb-ul-Mujahideen. Now 18, Basha is selected by Argentinean football coach Juan Marcos Troiaan for an exchange programme—an opportunity to train at Santos FC, the football club in Brazil. The young footballer is denied a passport owing to his father’s association with the armed resistance in Kashmir. This is the lens through which filmmaker Ashvin Kumar tells the story of conflict in the valley—Bashir’s conviction and Basha’s dreams in the backdrop of heightened military presence, bureaucracy and injustice, juxtaposed against the irony of Kashmir’s stunning landscape.

Raqs-e-Inquilab: Art in a Time of Conflict (2019)

Niyantha Shekar and Mukti Krishan’s Raqs-e-Inquilab is part of The Atlantic Selects, a series of shorts curated by The Atlantic. The 28-minute film looks at Kashmiri artists who’ve grown up in times of conflict, and how this has affected their different disciplines, from painting to poetry to digital art. Wonderfully shot by Anirudh Ganapthy, the film looks at the huge psychic toll of life under siege. As artist Hina Arif says, after quoting the famous verse about this being a paradise on earth, “I do not think this line suits Kashmir anymore… It is a paradise that has been set ablaze." Two other recent films also look at art and the conflict in Kashmir: Fazil NC and Shawn Sebastian’s In the Shade of Fallen Chinar (2016), and Tushar Madhav and Sarvnik Kaur’s Soz: A Ballad of Maladies (2016).

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