Amid a raging debate recently in India about freedom of expression, filmmaker Ashvin Kumar bypassed the censor board and released his film about Kashmir over the Internet. SHAMS IRFAN reviews the film to expose the binary of freedom of expression and portrayal of Kashmir.
Finally independent documentary filmmaker Ashvin Kumar found a way around Indian censor board to reach his audience worldwide. He released his latest documentary ‘InshAllah Kashmir’ on the internet free of cost for 24 hours on the eve of India’s 63rd Republic Day.
Kashmir for Indian audiences has largely remained limited to beautiful scenic locales which over the decades filled silver screen backgrounds silently. No effort was ever made by any of the Indian feature-filmmaker to zoom in inside the valley to see what people of Kashmir are going through.
Unfortunately, like any other Indian filmmaker Ashvin too succumbs to popular Indian narrative, which sees nothing uncomfortable in the olive green deployment in the state. His camera captures what he feels is fit to be shown to unwavering Indian audiences. He tries to pick up Kashmir issues in bits and pieces. Almost entire film is shot in such a way that till the end you wonder which side he is actually on. And by taking sides, I mean, either a filmmaker should tell his audiences the truth or don’t tell them anything at all. He tells you nothing at all.
No doubt the filmmaker tries hard to sound genuine throughout as he opens some of the uncomfortable closets for Indian government by interviewing ex-militants who talk briefly about torture techniques used by government forces to extract information. But was tortures limited to militants only? He fails to answer! Or maybe he deliberately chooses not to look into that direction, as Indian audiences are not ready to accept their defense forces tortured women and children as widely alleged inside Kashmir. The film is shot in 2009 and released in 2012. But the filmmaker silently steers himself away from 2008 unrest or 2010 protests where CRPF men killed scores of young unarmed Kashmiris who were protesting against excesses by government forces.
Again, Ashwin’s camera passes through the gates of Zangli Garrison but fails to capture the life of those countless men, women and children who live locked inside these gates from dusk till dawn. He seems to have shut his artistic eyes for a while till he is safe past these listless villages. His only justification is that the area is a major infiltration route thus Zangli Garrison. And Ashvin moves on. On the other hand Ashvin shows you barricades laid by small kids on a village road in detail. The voice over says, “Oh, there is another barricade over there. Fantastic! [Sarcastically]” But the same filmmaker, during his yearlong research in Kashmir fails to capture even a single barbed wire, barricade, identification parade, security person forcing his barrel on a civilians face while yelling at him, “prove your identity.”
The filmmaker is looking at the entire Kashmir issue through the eyes of ex-militants, militants, those militants who dream of conquering the entire world [including India] and turn it into an Islamic state. I wish, if the filmmaker simply asked a 5th grader in Kashmir, what they want or why they are up in arms against the state. But he chose to listen to rhetoric from an active militant who tells him, “After Kashmir is turned into an Islamic state we want to conquer India.”
The filmmaker serves Indian audience. Ashvin puts a big question mark over every Kashmiri’s aspiration. He is telling his audience that the whole drama in Kashmir is about the creation of an Islamic state which in turn automatically defines the Pandit migration.
The only purpose Ashvin’s documentary will serve is to reassure Kashmiri people that whosoever comes from the other side of the tunnel can never change his opinion about Kashmir – no matter how hard we try. And filmmakers will continue to see Kashmir as a paradise whose people for a time being are unhappy with India, for some unknown reasons.