Ace cinematographer Tasaduq Mufti’s formal joining of politics is the new son-rise in Kashmir politics. In a freewheeling interview with Masood Hussain, Mufti Jr talked about his passion, his concerns and his politics
KASHMIR LIFE (KL): You were behind the camera for most of your life. How is this phase of life on the others side of it?
TASADUQ MUFTI (TM): It is exciting in many ways because I hope to make some new discoveries about myself and the world around without filters. Despite all the challenges, I do find it exciting. To create a better living space for ourselves, for our children, for our future, I think the vision of the space or where we may get to, is very exciting to me.
KL: Is real life actually very closer to reel life or there is a sort of dichotomy?
TM: There is no dichotomy but there is a dichotomy in many ways. Reel life does replicate real life in many ways. Sometimes you see the stories, those little things, that conflict you write about and it is uncanny. Sometimes that becomes part of your life. It happened to me several times over now. An idea that I would think about and conceive purely as a piece of fiction, I see it come face to face in my own life that the same conflict becomes me. It is because it always draws from real life. That is what we feed on and it exists in some kind of association one cannot live without the other. And you know this is what movies are made of.
KL: But how has Bollywood, for instance, tackled Kashmir?
TM: I think there has not been a perspective so far except Haider. That film was very true and it raised the voice and raised certain issues very boldly. I think that was one great effort.
KL: The first and the last effort?
TM: I won’t say that because we still are in the process of growing as filmmakers. Lots of voices are going to come from here. There was Valley of Saints which I have yet to see. Films Harud and Zero Bridge did well internationally. There are lots of voices still coming out. I am sure lots and lots of people will be making great films in future. Bollywood is not the only space that defines filmmaking. Filmmaking is a broader space.
Lot of amazing photographers also have voice. Recently a book came about conflict carrying some incredible work. Like they say a picture speaks a thousand words, so I think those are really definitive amazing pieces of work. You have amazing artists making amazing music, their voices may be a little possibly dissent in some ways but they are soulful and beautiful. They have a voice and certain pain as well. So there is a conversation starting slowly and steadily. I think it will slowly lead to some really amazing work.
KL: Artist requires a space, a theme and a complete ecosystem to work and deliver. Are we getting even closer to that?
TM: Some great films have come out of the conflict, they do require ecosystem and voice. But the world has moved on so much. There are people doing incredible work just with their cellphones like this little boy Azan Shah who shot his work with his cellphone. I think that ecosystem is already here. Even technology in cellphones is better than better looking cameras, so I think the medium is already here. It is just the matter of time when people are going to start using the spaces around them and becoming alive to what is going on and they are becoming alive in smaller formats films. These voices are coming out. They are speaking what they need to say.
For a possibly commercial venture, you do need certain avenues like to train properly for which you need a studio, lighting. That is viable medium and it means lots of job and creativity.
KL: We have landscape, hospitality and a strong connection with Bollywood but not even basic shooting gear?
TM: Absolutely. I also shot lots of commercials here. We are competing with Poland and European countries having all the cameras and all the skills available. If we want to create really skilled boys and girls to work in this medium, it has great potential. But we need to create certain infrastructure, cameras that we can hire, possibly a studio space. Lot of my director friends come here. When they come here they do not want to leave. They often say I wish I had a recording studio here so that they finish off their work. So I think that is something we must do.
When one talks about tourism, it is not just about people coming and visiting a place. It is about interactions, getting to know people and filmmakers tend to do that. They stay here for a couple of months. I think when we talk about associating with rest of the country it is a very beautiful way to do that.
KL: In last two years, you busied yourself with the old silk factory. What you intend to do?
TM: These are things I feel strongly, emotionally about. The reason that possibly I am here is that maybe certain things can be done better. While shooting a film for Hero, I interviewed two little cute girls in the city. I asked them what would they do if I made both of then queen for a day. They said they will just clean up the rivers and the lake.
Biggest thing in nature is just instinct, that is what I feel strongly about. I feel you can talk about bigger and better things once you cleaned up all the mess.
We work in total chaos. We built a road, dig it, rebuilt it and then dig it again. Same is the case with silk factory. You go to Bemina or Batmaloo, you see mess, things not taken care of.
Our locked silk factory is an amazing place and it could be re-used. When I look at silk factory, I thought it just needs to be saved. I look at it as a multi-disciplinary space, a place where we could teach environmental design, where some of the best people from the world can come over and talk about urban design, where we could have performing arts, where we could have some of the filmmaking or screening space for kids so that somewhere all these disciplines converge under the same roof, under the same space.
That space can’t work in isolation. So, lots of architects went there for a couple of months, did public observation, conducted lots of interviews. Because, you have to understand the immediate space surrounding the silk factory how you can make that a better living space.
Because of the fly-over the people’s livelihood, their peace of mind is affected. So, for any kind of renewal plan that place is ideally suited. If you were to talk about the school of architecture or school of design, that place is ideally suited. You have a place, where all the arts and technique converges, and works on the space outside. So, to say, experiment of a good kind just happens outside the space.
Let’s see how we can make living space better for those people. That’s my plan for the silk factory.
KL: What has been the outcome of your last exercise about capacity building in tourism development?
TM: In tourism there is much of money available. I think somewhere we need to re-think how that money is being spent. Most of the people I got in (to interact) work with local craftsmen, local talent source out local material. They work with the cheaper cost then most of our architects here. They are sensitive to the environment they create, and they think a lot about how they are building. It is always good to share those ideas and hopefully set things in that direction. But the effect of it will take time, because it is not a one show thing, it has to be constant engagement. I do not call it architecture, it is environmental designing.
KL: But will any of these things help you in Lok Sabha elections?
TM: This exercise is what I am going to continue whether I win or lose. I am interested in civic activities. We got lot many hospitals to be cleaned up.
The place that I am contesting, there are many such problems. If you talk about health care in Anantnag (Islamabad), the maternity hospital is about to fall down and for some reason things are not moving and those are concerns that we need to address right now.
I am not going to sell these concepts there (because) this is completely a different exercise. I am not gonna say that this is what I am doing and you should vote for me. I am not gonna present a magic wand and say I will come and things will change. This is the system that has been set in place long back. I will have to step in to understand and then move forward.
But certain things can be corrected right at the outset like moving people from one hospital to another and retrofitting and making it stronger. When I raise these question I am told that you have to get in the system to understand it as you can’t do it outside.
KL: What are you going to tell people to garner their support?
TM: I will tell them my truth. I will tell them I know very little, I will learn and go all along together and you can teach me few things and I can tell you few things and somewhere we will find a way. That is all I can tell them. I will tell them I will not lie to you, somewhere there is mess, somewhere there is little better, somewhere they are hopeful and somewhere they are not. It is not me alone going to do it. For us to move forward together, we both have to change a little, both have to imagine same things. That is the vision based on my understanding. So when I am off to Anantnag (Islamabad) to understand it with the best team of the people who know how to understand it. Then, I will make the intervention.
KL: But you are not going to South Kashmir as celebrated cinematographer. You are going as son of Mufti Mohammad Sayed, as PDP’s sonrise as newspapers say.
TM: I am going as my father’s son but primarily I am cinematographer. I think the experience that I have as cinematographer is invaluable. While I may carry my father’s spirit and dream in my heart but primarily I am cinematographer. The cinematographer and the image-maker in me saw all these things and that led me to this journey. My father’s last walk was to Shah-i-Hamdan. I guess he was saying something to me.
We all play politics in our lives, all of us are politician to a certain extent. When a kid is about two years old and he starts talking, he is a politician already. In Kashmir, we all love to play politics because it is an engaging activity, engagement, intelligent thinking.
KL: You may have to respond to people for the commitments made to them, for the happenings of last many seasons?
TM: Those questions have to be answered honestly. Each individual case will have its own limitation and possibility. I have to address those in specific ways.
KL: Rise of PDP happened in a particular situation, with a particular mind set and policy. Since that rise (2002) and shared re-rise (2014) many things have changed. You agree?
TM: Yes, many things have changed in different situations. But if you notice every time one gets the lease of life, certain amount of breathing space improves. You see clear intent that PDP wants to improve things. Last year as well, if you must have noticed, before things went downhill, main decisions were taken. This year again you have little space and you see lots of bold decisions are being made and the intent is clear. I am here also because of that intent. I have moved away from thriving carrier at top of my game. I am here about to do something.
KL: How you will justify the last summer?
TM: I will not justify it. It is not my position to justify it. Because the complication of these things involve intricacies of basic things. I cannot sit outside and justify. I am on the outside as much as you are. It is not that I was advising the CM or involved in any such way and I should not be because I did not have the experience to understand these things. I think these individuals cases must be possibly the administration’s job to justify. I cannot. Some lost his eyes, someone lost certain things with certain systems. I neither have right nor enough experience to justify.
KL: There are scenarios of which you were not a part but you still will have to garner support?
TM: If someone judges me in that space but that does not mean I am insincere. I cannot justify things that I have no experience of, that I have no right set of the information. If it leads someone saying me: ‘we do not support, you shouldn’t be here’, if I have to face that, I will. It is part of the game.
KL: How do you see happenings in South Kashmir?
TM: To a certain extent it is a same problem everywhere. In north, it may be to lesser extent. I think it is just lack of avenues and possibilities that frustrate the young life. What happened last year being at the core of it. It was epicenter of what happened last year and was worst affected. I think those questions and complexities need a holistic approach and understanding to get definitive solutions.
KL: Presuming you an outside cinematographer, how will explain a phenomenon in which a region wholeheartedly supports a political party and is now accused of misuse of force against the same people?
TM: When you say abuse or misuse of force, I say these are systems and tactics set in place decades back. If you also heard the CM, she said so many times that this is something that shouldn’t have happened, possibly things could have been handled better. There is nothing that I can say but one must understand that it is not purely PDP or some other, who is being insensitive. We have learnt from that experience. This is also very crucial time and hopefully departments who were involved, should have taken lessons.
KL: Do not you think, governance and all the basics you talk about things take back seat when you are caught in conflict?
TM: I visited Nowgam recently, it is half marsh, their homes half submerged under water, even schools are submerged. They says it is a stone pelters heaven. You see Quit India everywhere. When you look at the place like that, you clearly understand where the conflict comes from. Now if people are living like this, not having basics amenities, their kids are struggling, there is no life after 6 PM, they have nothing to do, no playgrounds. Do not you think that is the reason for the conflict?
Now I will talk to Pakistan and here you go: let us have conversation with each other without addressing these issues. So for God’s sake let us address these issues as well.
KL: Is mis-governance contributing to the conflict related crisis or it is vice versa?
TM: I think it works both ways. Somewhere yes. I agree, it is contributing each one is feeding off each other.
KL: Should Kashmir manage basic issues first then conflict resolution should be a priority?
TM: I think they can work hand in hand, at the same time. People who specialise in international affairs and who understand our place in the world, who understand where we need to be, need to engage there. And people who are willing to work here and change work in the system and solve these little problems need to work here. They have to coherently work together. We cannot work in isolation.
There is multiple points of view. We have to hear them all. But at the same time, we have to address basic issues because, it has to be multi prone strategy.
One thing cannot take precedence on the other. You cannot just ignore completely what is happening on the outside world and say now we live in isolation because we live in a bubble. We live in a bigger world, we are the small part of the largest things of international borders.
KL: But on certain things, you do not have a partner to come along, I mean the BJP?
TM: I feel partners will come along. I am hopeful that the process will begin. We will have to talk. I think without conversation you do not move forward in any direction. We do need to have that conversation at every different level.
KL: But you jail your ideological opponents, how can conversation take place. It is just a monologue?
TM: It has to start by building a strong foundation, and once you have that, you have that truth with you that you are for your people. We need to set apart our disputes, we need to know that this is right and this is wrong. Once we become peoples voice, then we can represent them in the true sense or word. Are we their voice right now? No. There is lots of discontent all over the place.
KL: Do you believe that idealism is easily transferable into a reality in reel life then real life?
TF: Yes. It is. But even reel life does not work without the conflict. Even when you watch a movie you would not watch it without a villain.