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A new Kashmir narrative
In 2009, the dreams of young Kashmiri footballer Basharat almost crumbled when he was denied a passport to attend a training camp in Brazil because of his father's militant past. The 18-year-old's story made headlines and eventually chief minister Omar Abdullah intervened to get him the travel document.
Filmmaker Ashvin Kumar's Inshallah Football focuses on this subject, which is emblematic of the vicious cycle that two generations of Kashmiris have found themselves trapped in. The Oscar-nominated director stumbled upon Basharat's story during his visit to Kashmir in 2009 to do research for a feature film. He dropped the idea and opted for a documentary on Basharat when he found the true story far more inspiring than fiction - a story that is as much about Basharat's father, who was tortured in custody, as his Argentinean coach Juan Marcos Troia, who runs a soccer academy in Srinagar. Troia has trained and made professionals of hundreds of violencescarred kids, who earlier could see no light at the end of the tunnel. "I went to Kashmir after 20 years to do research for a film. Before that, like any average Indian, I had visited the Valley for its lakes, scenic beauty and Gulmarg. But in 2009, I realised to my horror and discomfort that a large part of what has happened in the last two decades remains blanketed in our narrative on Kashmir, " says Kumar. This realisation inspired him to make the documentary. "I felt ashamed as an Indian citizen that the only narrative we know is the narrative of the state, " he says. "The suffering of Kashmiris at the hands of militants is all we have been allowed to know and their torture at the hands of the security forces has been stifled. Grave human rights violations by security forces are something that a democratic country cannot afford to have. "
Kumar says his idea was to address the lack of information and thus contribute to the process of reconciliation. "The children who have grown up in Kashmir in the last 20 years have only bitterness for the country they are a part of, " he says. "They are oppressed and want a better future. The earlier generations have done what they have, and now there is a need for reconciliation. But this will not happen unless there is an acknowledgement of the wrongs that were perpetrated on Kashmir. And that acknowledgement cannot happen till Indian citizens are given access to real information. "
Kumar's idea, however, may not fully fructify. Though Inshallah Football premiered at South Korea's prestigious Busan International Film Festival in September 2010, won an award at the Dubai International Film Festival and got rave reviews internationally, it was initially banned in India. Later, it was given an Adults Only certificate, "as its characters talk in graphic detail about the torture they underwent", which effectively killed the film's chances of a TV screening. Kumar says the ban is a continuation of the fundamental problem of a refusal to confront difficult questions on Kashmir.
Actor Aamir Bashir's film Harud (Autumn) portrays another tragic Kashmir story - that of youngsters who have gone missing. In the last two decades, an estimated 10, 000 Kashmiris picked up by the police have not returned home. Many of them are believed to have been killed in custody and buried in hundreds of unmarked graves that were discovered across the state recently.
Both Harud and Inshaallah Football aim to cut though the simplistic and blinkered attitude towards Kashmir that views the never-ending strife as a law-and-order problem and ignores the human dimension.
Bashir describes his film as an "inside-out view" on Kashmir and "antithetical to what mainstream Indian films have attempted so far". "The few films on Kashmir since 1989 have been told from an outsider's point of view, " he told a foreign TV channel recently. "They are all part of a colonialist discourse where there are good, peace-loving Kashmiris and some black sheep gone astray. Besides, these stories are always the formulaic good-versus-evil, Indian heroes versus rebels and villains. "
Bashir says his film's characters, faced with violent assault, seek dignity in their lives. "Harud is the result of the responsibility I personally felt both as a Kashmiri and a storyteller, " he says of the film which was made with a crew of just 18 people and in which Kashmiri non-actors have played all the main roles. However, it wasn't easy even for him, as Kashmiris, who feel they have not been portrayed too accurately on celluloid in the past, are wary of outsiders with a camera.
Apart from the missing-in-custody tack, Harud talks about Kashmiri women, the worst sufferers of the conflict who are often left to pick up the pieces. The mother of the main character Rafiq, whose brother goes missing in custody, epitomises women who have kept families going in the face of grave adversities.
Harud also addresses another not-widely-known aspect of the Kashmir conflict: mental damage. Rafiq's father, played by Iranian actor Reza Naji, has debilitating paranoia, a symbol of the alarmingly high percentage of patients with mental damage in the state. Kashmir's only psychiatric hospital, which used to get one patient a day in 1989, had 300 patients a day by 1994. Some surveys say that up to 90 per cent of the Valley's population has been affected by some post-traumatic stress disorder.
According to psychiatrists, Kashmiris have feelings of isolation thanks to the never-ending conflict, a state of mind exacerbated by their insensitive portrayal in popular media and cinema. Films like Harud and Inshallah Football could perhaps provide the muchneeded human face to the Kashmir story.
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