‘How can you suppress a whole state or a whole community, and for how long?’

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Filmmaker Ashvin Kumar did seven films, and four are on Kashmir only. His latest film has been given an A-certificate by the Censor Board. He talked to Saima Bhat from Mumbai

Ashvin Kumar

Kashmir Life (KL): We want to know about your association with Kashmir?

Ashvin Kumar (AK): My great grandfather, Puru Chand Mehta, was a Kashmiri. He lived in Baramulla and belonged to a Punjabi community. In the 1970s, my maternal grandfather moved out of Kashmir for business purpose. After that, he , along with his family, kept on coming to Kashmir and used to spend half of the year in Kashmir. When I was born I was also taken to Kashmir. During the summer vacations, we used to spend five or six months there which continued till 1987 when I was 12 years old. After that, I came to Kashmir in 2009, when I started my work for Inshallah Football. And now, I come at least once a year.

KL: Your film ‘No Fathers in Kashmir’ was approved by the censor board with cuts under A-category?

AK: This is the question you should ask the censor board. I also don’t know why they have done it. As the director of the film, I can tell you that my film is based on the truths and reality of Kashmir. Maybe that is the issue. Maybe they don’t want to hear to truths.

KL: Whenever there is a film related to Kashmir, why does it create news?

AK: That could be because we don’t want to acknowledge the reality of what is going on in Kashmir. I think we as a country don’t want to acknowledge the fact that there is a part of the country, which has some issues which are not being addressed in the framework of the constitution. I don’t think we want to acknowledge that we are responsible for certain things that are going on in the valley. And any time someone tries to highlight those issues, the first thing is to ban and censor. Censor board is just one organisation, then there are others as well that have taken the view which is far more than the purview of the constitution.

KL: You have repeatedly said you want to sensitise common citizens about the sufferings of a common Kashmiri, and you blame the prime time news channels. Please elaborate?

AK: I think by not putting up the correct picture. By suppressing certain kinds of news and highlighting other types of news, the prime time news channels only create a feeling of othering and a feeling of radicalism which feeds into a further counter feeling of radicalism on the Hindu side. And they tend to play to the very basic instincts in order to increase their TRPs. They don’t highlight the levels of human rights’ abuses, the atrocities that are going on there. By doing this they are doing a disservice to the perception of Kashmir in the rest of the country and to the basics like who is a Kashmiri and what actually they want. They are also doing a disservice to armed forces because they make it very much difficult, dangerous for them to operate. So they are not actually serving the purpose of that either.

How I am going to sensitise a common India is by connecting to the youth directly because they are open-minded enough at this stage, and they also see through these mistruths and untruths. Actually, the younger generation is far more in-tune to hear the realities and absorb it because they are distant from the traumas of partition and they are equally distant from the prejudice of religion, caste and creed. My idea is to speak to the youth and show them what actually is going on in Kashmir, and in that, I want to create a sense of empathy in a fellow human being.

KL: In your decade-long career during which you directed around seven films and three of them are about Kashmir and one Ladakh, which is a part of Kashmir. Are you in love with Kashmir?

AK: Isn’t it obvious, I am a Kashmiri and definitely, I am in love with Kashmir. I feel this is the place where I belong the most. It is something which is very personal, and I feel very bad about the tragedies and oppression taking place there. I feel bad about our inability to give people of Kashmir the basic human rights. I would like an ordinary Kashmiri to enjoy the same freedoms and rights as we enjoy in Delhi or Bombay. I don’t see how you can suppress a whole state or a whole community and for how long it will carry on. There seems no logic, no game plans. These are very sad things actually, particularly because I come from that place.

KL: What was the quantum of loss of your last two Kashmir based films that you finally had to release on the internet?

AK: The loss was enormous. Since they were both documentaries, the price was not very high but basically, the loss was the total of the budget. The films first earn from the theatres, internet and then Doordarshan also pays. But I had to upload my films directly on the internet without making any money. Even if both the films were nationally awarded films, which otherwise could have earned Rs 25 to 30 lakhs alone from the Doordarshan, but they did not took them because they had A (adult) certificates. For both the films, it must had been around 2 crore rupees. And I guess they are trying to do same with my latest film as well.

KL: There are films like Haider that was released on bigger screens, then why only your films are stopped?

AK: No actually they are quite fair in targeting. Pankaj Bhutalia also had to go to the High Court to get a U certificate, and for Haider, censor board’s chief watched it directly. It was a studio film and it included bigger names of the director, bigger actors, but I don’t have that much approach. It is very easy for them to keep me silent. And Haider was released during the time of Congress, and they managed to get it. But we are caught.

We are going for the Tribunal, and I guess they should give us the certificate because the film doesn’t carry anything to which they can object. And if they don’t give us the certificate then I may have to move to the High Court. But I don’t want to do that because that includes costs and there is no need to go there because the film doesn’t contain anything that stops it from being released. So I want them to give us the certificate.

KL: Do you think Kashmir sells?

AK: Good movies always sell be it in Kashmir or in Timbuktu. I think there are many misconceptions about Kashmir in the minds of the audience; they have a wrong impression about Kashmir. In my latest film, I wanted to highlight the problems of Kashmir through a love story.

KL: Your film ‘Inshallah Kashmir’ was about the torture of militants, and then you talked about Pandits. But is it justified to say only these two sections of Kashmir were the victims of the conflict?

AK: No, I have not shown these two only. I have covered all aspects including the widows, and in fact, the state version as well. This is not the journalism, this is filmmaking. First, I deny the charge that only two aspects were touched, that is not the truth at all, and second, it is not my job to become a journalist. I am filmmaker. My job is to create emotions in the audience and show the reality which is in front of me. To me, it was to what level I can shake my audience and I have done that. I have not taken any sides.

KL: Has your family, friends asked you to abandon your idea of making films related to Kashmir because it has hit your career?

AK: Yes, of course, they tell me all the time, but my response is to keep making films.

KL: What inspired you to make your latest film No fathers in Kashmir?

A still from No Fathers in Kashmir.

AK: To be very honest the truth was behind making this film; I have always tried to show the truth. First Inshallah Football and then Inshallah Kashmir, which was a kind of activism where I wanted to highlight the human right abuses in Kashmir, and taking the same theme, you will find it recurring in No fathers in Kashmir. But the question was how to get it to the young audience. I am actually inspired by the youth, by the open-mindedness and the idea of falling in love for the first time, and how to make people fell in love with Kashmir like I have fallen in love with it for the first time with both its innocence and the tragedy. I don’t understand Kashmir in terms of human being, not in terms of religion, borders or boundaries that divide us but in the way that gets us together as human beings. The human being, love, youth, tragedy is the inspiration and the fact of not having a father in their lives, what is it like. It is a retelling of that. The people will get to know that tragedies happen in peoples’ houses, it doesn’t happen in some abstracts. An encounter between a militant and army is a reality. The actual tragedy is when a mother carries on a child’s education and a daughter is asking her mother: ‘Where is my father?’ That is the tragedy. That is the inspiration.

KL: Any past experiences of Kashmir you remember?

AK: I still remember my childhood days, how beautiful Kashmir was and how innocent the people were. We were coming here as tourists for holidaying. People we would interact with were with the tourism industry only. We wouldn’t meet people outside this circle. But I have very beautiful memories of Kashmir when we would drive all over Kashmir from north to south, everywhere. And now when there is conflict people are still innocent, which is a remarkable thing about Kashmir. The warmth, hospitality, the graciousness, tehzeeb all these things are still there. I could not have made the films that I have made without the corporation of people. I always used to roam around alone driving my car without having anybody along. If I visit people and I get late in the evening, it becomes difficult for me to leave from those families because they don’t allow me to leave, instead they want me to stay with them. If the thing would have been different then it was not possible for me to go alone.

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