There have been many documentaries on the Kashmir conflict, both by non-Kashmiris and locals. They play a major role in storytelling, but until now, there was no one to take an unbiased story of Kashmir to the big screen.
In 2010, actor-turned-director, Aamir Bashir’s film, Harud (literally, autumn) was released at Toronto Film Festival. Bashir was born and brought up in the Valley. He acted in a few Bollywood movies and then quit to show Kashmir on the big screen.
On 27 July his film was released in major Indian cities at PVR cinemas. The film has set the bar high for making movies on Kashmir. It comes out from the core of the Kashmiri heart and holds their story. Rafiq, a Kashmiri youth whose elder brother has disappeared, is the protagonist. He is struggling to live in the most militarized zone on earth, Kashmir. He could not cross over to Pakistan-occupied Kashmir for arms training and therefore feels agitated for not doing anything to counter the repression. His life is shown as any Kashmiri’s life which makes this film remarkable. Rafiq’s father experiences a nervous breakdown on account of the situation. It has many metaphors to express the feelings of the people and their condition.
To present on screen one of the long-standing conflicts of the world cannot be easy. Kashmir has been shown in many movies from Bollywood to Hollywood, including a Hollywood flick, A Passage to India, a 1984 film written and directed by David Lean. The screenplay of this movie was based on the 1924 novel of the same title by E. M. Forster. It showed how beautiful the Valley was. Some scenes were shot on the banks of the River Jehlum, near one of the famous seven bridges, Fateh Kadal (old). The beauty of the Valley has always been an attraction for filmmakers.
When the armed conflict started in the late 80’s it provided an added attraction to filmmakers. The conflict itself became a theme for many movies. From Mani Ratnam’s Roja (1992)to Rahul Dholakia’s Lamha (2010), several movies were shot in Kashmir. Roja picturises how the militancy is a threat to civilians but that Pakistan doesn’t support them -- this, by showing “a few young boys going to Pakistan for training and getting shot by the Pakistan army”. Lamha on the other hand displays the conflict within. It complicates the issue of the Valley further, creating confusion in the audience. There have been others which had something about Kashmir including Fanaa, Maa Tujhe Salaam, Sikander and Mission Kashmir.
In all these movies, the narrative of the Kashmiris was missing. None of these movies could tell the tale of a Kashmiri. They failed to show Kashmir through the eye of the local. What a Kashmiri thinks or feels under military repression of more than half a million troopers, was always compromised by stereotyping the whole issue. People introduced to Kashmir through such movies have an alien understanding about the Valley and its people. It lacks the feeling to an extent where a Kashmiri can confidently say “this is definitely not my story”.
A few years ago, Kashmir had no filmmakers who could be an answer to Bollywood propaganda. With every passing year of the brutal conflict, local people started taking filmmaking as a career. Students started learning photography, writing, art, acting, theatre, poetry, and much more. For most of these people, having lived as the children of the conflict became their inspiration. They wanted to express their stories, which are mostly about bloodshed and violence unleashed on them. This gave Kashmir a few documentaries, resistance artists, writers, poets, and people in different fields of art.
Jashn-e-Azadi, a documentary on Kashmir’s conflict made by Sanjay Kak, a Kashmiri himself, told the complex tale of the Valley. This film has been screened throughout the world. Many Indians too saw Kashmir for the first time through Kak’s film. The film even became a reason for many to visit Kashmir and change their perception of it.
Unlike Kak, an experienced filmmaker, many youngsters took to camera and started shooting their day-to-day life. Last year, one such youngster, a girl called Shah Ifat Gazia recorded the story of an 8-year-old boy Sameer Rah in a documentary, Long ago I died. Rah was killed by Indian forces during the 2010 mass protests in Kashmir. He was the youngest among more than 120 people who were killed.
How Harud connects the audience to Kashmir is in its cast, location, and direction. The narrative doesn’t resemble anything produced in Bollywood. It doesn’t show someone like Major Pratab Singh (Sunny Deol) in Maa Tujhe Salaam ducking rockets. In most movies on Kashmir, the protagonist has always been from the outside and, in the last 20 years, either a uniformed one or a military informer (who makes friends with the forces). In Harud, the use of local actors, common people and events makes a big difference. This treatment is unusual for fictional films in general.
The reality which Bollywood failed to bring out on screen in all these decades has been brought out by Harud. Bollywood movies such as Mission Kashmir, which most Indians refer to while talking about the Kashmir conflict, had projected a highly exaggerated image of the Valley. This was contrary to the ground situation. Songs are fine, but a conflict like the one in Kashmir can’t be used for sensationalism and propaganda.
If Harud is any indication, in the coming years we will see more movies on Kashmir which will have a local narrative and perhaps made by a Kashmiri. Aamir Bashir as a director and Harud as a milestone is bound to inspire aspiring filmmakers in Kashmir.
(Fahad Shah is the Editor of The Kashmir Walla. He lives in New Delhi.)