Capturing historic floods on lens amid anger and anguish took an extraordinary spine on part of filmmakers. Those who braved flood fury and public rage ended up preserving deluged history of Kashmir, reports Shams Irfan
On September 4, 2014, Jalalud Din Baba, 43, an independent documentary filmmaker, was out to shoot some sequences for his latest film ‘Saving The Saviour’. The purpose was to find the source of filth and solid waste that gets dumped into Wullar Lake in north Kashmir after crisscrossing through old bazaars of Srinagar city.
“There was something strange in the air that day. I looked up and found hundreds of eagles hovering above my head,” says Jalalud Din. It was kind of a sign for him. “Looking at the overcast sky I knew it is no ordinary thing. I sensed something bad was about to happen,” recalls Jalalud Din.
For next two days Jalalud Din continued shooting the changing moods of Jhelum. “By then I was not thinking about Saving The Saviours anymore. I was just following my instinct.”
And his instinct did prove right when rains did not stop for next three days. By September 7, his second home, Srinagar city was submerged under 20 feet of water. “There was chaos everywhere. It looked like end of times,” recalls Jalalud Din.
Equipped with a camera and an expensive tripod Jalalud Din was out to shoot sequences for something that was still evolving in his mind. He was yet to convince himself that the footage he was shooting will actually make a movie. “There were angry and helpless faces everywhere. The city of life has turned gloomy overnight.”
But little did Jalalud Din know that he will be face-to-face with this brewing anger soon. On September 9, while shooting near Nawapora area of Srinagar, Jalalud Din met two stranded tourists: a Malaysian and an Indian girl, who were at loss seeing the chaos around them. “They were pleading for help. They wanted to reach the airport and go home.”
Within a moment a large crowd of angry natives assembled around them. The anger was targeted at Delhi based media for its skewed reportage of Kashmir floods. “People were pained to see how Delhi media has projected army as the real saviours when they were just pick and choosing VVIPs,” says Jalalud Din.
Before he could have explained his presence at a disaster scene with a camera and a tripod, he was rolling in dust.
“There were around 50 guys who were kicking and punching me. Apart from a few bones, they broke my tripod and my Scooty. I somehow managed to save my camera,” says Jalalud Din.
For next three days Jalalud Din was bedridden. “They had broken my bone not my resolve,” he says with a smile.
Based on four characters – representing three different religions, Jalalud Din’s 53 minute long documentary ‘Shrouded Paradise’ is perhaps the only post flood film with cent per cent original footage. “I travelled on foot mostly to cover the suffering of those days. At times I felt it is unethical to shoot while people around you are in pain. But if I had not, we would have lost a major part of our history.”
The high point of Shrouded Paradise is its plain narrative that keeps viewers hooked throughout. Jalalud Din has intelligently backed his characters (three septuagenarians and a 9-year-old kid), with visuals to make his point. “I just wanted to show what I saw and felt during those troubled times.”
The moment courtyard of filmmaker Bilal A Jan’s, of Ocean of Tears fame, house in Chattabal area got inundated he realized that these are no ordinary times. “This is the worst one can come across in a lifetime. I was moved,” recalls Bilal.
Floods helped Bilal realize the importance of his surrounding and social connections in a way that he had never thought before.
For next few months the idea of making a film on floods started doing rounds in Bilal’s mind. “I started collecting footage shot by different people to shape a raw idea that was occupying my mind for long,” says Bilal.
The actual shooting for Kashmir Floods: Help The Vale Rise – a 20 minute long documentary funded by a local NGO – focuses on individual struggle, stories of pain and loss during floods, began in February 2015. “Entire Ganistan areas of Sumbul, Sonawari was still under water when we visited it six months after Srinagar got flooded,” says Bilal.
Being an experienced filmmaker, Bilal’s documentary focuses on interpersonal relationships that helped Kashmiris stay afloat when everything else was drowning. “My film is about post flood challenges like livelihood, reestablishment of small businesses, relief and rebuilding including health and education sector,” says Bilal.
From scene one Kashmir Floods: Help The Vale Rise, takes a viewer on a time machine journey of sorts making them feel the tension felt by Bilal’s characters during those challenging times. “My characters include doctors, ordinary citizens, shopkeepers etc who acted extraordinarily to save the day for others.”
The most elaborate and high-tech of all films made on September 2014 films is from team Associate Media. The feature length documentary film: Into Murky Waters by Tarique A Bhat and Wajahat Iqbal Kashtawari, helps a viewer understand the chain-of-events that led to such catastrophic floods.
Since September 3, Tarique and his team began shooting sequences for an ongoing project aimed at highlighting the bigger picture related to ecological and environmental impact. “We started with something different and all of a sudden we are in the middle of floods,” says Tarique.
Backed by expert interviews, most of which Tariq claims were taken days before September 7, the film is an in depth chronicle of floods.
Into Murky Waters can be used by researchers who want to understand floods beyond official narratives. “There was a huge difference between what we saw on the ground and what officials were saying. This film busts many myths.”
One of the most revealing aspect of Tarique’s film is the way it analysis elements other than natural responsible for floods. For Tarique rains are the last one to blame.
For him increasing footprint in deep mountains for religious pilgrim and men-in-jackboots in deep jungles are more worrisome. Interestingly, there is a solid technical backup for every argument that Into Murky Waters carries.
While local filmmakers spent sleepless nights, faced public ire, and risked their expensive equipments and life to record floods, there were a few half hearted efforts as well. September Himalayan Floods – (Un)avoidable Deluge – a film directed by Shahid Rasool and co-produced by Inam-ul-Rehman. Interestingly the documentary that claims to find out what went wrong in context to floods, ends up capturing different moods of the director!