[ blogflash 14 : heavy handed criticism! ]

This morning there was a call from the Hauz Khas Police Station, from Station House Officer Kukreti, asking if there was a screening of the film planned for later in the day at a college in their jurisdiction. (There was one planned, as part of the ongoing film-club run within this undergraduate institution by the media students. And this was the second call: last evening Sub Inspector Rajiv Kumar from the same Police Station had called.)

Once again, like in Mumbai, the anxieties of the police were fuelled by a specific “tip-off”: they had received a two-page written complaint informing them that the film was being screened without a censor certificate, and invoked a past history of provocation– starting from a ‘noisy’ screening at the Habitat Center Film Club, and all the way up to the ‘dvd seizure’ by the Mumbai Police only three weeks ago. The complaint (by one Sunil Tikoo) was comprehensive, and included images of the Mumbai ‘seizure’ (probably downloaded from this very blog!) and helpfully accompanied by my cell phone number.

So instead of previewing the film with the students, I have an afternoon off to write this. And contemplate how you can disrupt screenings, then make those disruptions the grounds to create further disruptions. Must make sense to someone!

What I also still fail to understand is the sheer energy with which a group of people have been tracking the film around, filing written complaints about it, following the complaints up with the police, scanning the net for news of more “illegal” screenings… I mean what are they afraid of? If this film doesn’t meet the standards that people have set for documentary films, surely viewers will just dismiss it and move on? The largest screening we’ve done recently was at the Osian Cine-fan festival last month in New Delhi: from the evidence of the screening and the Q&A, people were moved – and disturbed – by the film. And the evidence from previews in 10 cities doesn’t seem to suggest that viewers – or indeed the press – have been driven into paroxysms of rage, or discontent, nothing.

So what’s up? Why try to come in the way of the film and it’s audience? Surely if the arguments that the film is making are incomplete, flawed, one-sided, whatever, surely people will be able to figure that out? Or is the argument about Kashmir in the Indian mind so fragile, so constructed, and so hollow, that even one film that refuses to buy into that brittle construct is seen as a mortal threat?

Many of us have spent years talking about State censorship and how we must fight it – here the state, in the form of the Mumbai and Delhi Police, seems to be doing no more than fulfilling the censorial impulses of a section of people. (Which is why I sometimes wonder: is this still the State apparatus, but working through the benign cover of a section of people? Not easy to figure out.)

I know the argument has been made that the film represents only ‘one-side’ of the argument. But if this alone were to be grounds for stopping films, I can think of a few that would qualify strongly. We’ve seen other ‘one-sided’ masala films on Kashmir failing to pull in even a weeks crowd into a cinema theatre (can’t remember the title, but could it be Barf?). There are other equally one-dimensional non-fiction compilations that have to be shoved down people’s throats – and still have no takers. So why not let Mother Nature take her course – let the strong arguments survive, and the fluff fly away. But let the audiences decide. Not the Police. And not the invocation of the Censor Board.

We welcome responses. (Abuse will have to trickle away elsewhere!)


2 Responses to “[ blogflash 14 : heavy handed criticism! ]”

  1. 1 Himanshu August 24, 2007 at 12:47 pm

    was reading the interviews on the blog and suddenly saw that the blog has a new updated entry. was also trying to figure out a chronological account of virtual and vociferous warfare on blog and was quite perturbed as to why comment tags had drawn quite a blank from these enunciated networks of Kashmiri Pandit (shall I say diaspora?) when my engagement with those interviews was interrupted by this entry…
    well have you ever witnessed a conversation across a table in a restaurant getting drowned into angry shrill cries from a few rowdy guys out there, and then Mumbai or Delhi police suddenly arrive, prompted not by a call on 100 by the restaurant owner, but by a tip off from one of that group of persons trying their hardest to drown this conversation out, and then start interrogating this duo trying hard to hold conversation across a table. so next time you fail to silence an uncomfortable articulation, tip off the police by sending an email and writing a two page formal complaint and the obedient police shall be at your service, my friends.

  2. 2 saiba shaina August 24, 2007 at 4:18 pm

    2 films, A dvd player, a gathering, a dialogue.


    August 15, 2007.

    A small group of colleagues in Mumbai: filmmakers, artists, students, journalists, critics, teachers, writers, poets, sociologists and historians, spent the evening of this 60th year of independence indoors, watching 2 films on Kashmir: The Human Tragedy by Ashok Pandit and Jashn-e-Azadi by Sanjay Kak. At 10:30, post the screenings, the viewers interacted with one of the filmmakers, Sanjay Kak via internet audio chat.

    The transcript of an intense Q & A session is below.

    A: (Ashok Sukumaran) I just want to warn you that there are about 20 people listening to what you say. Are you still there?

    SK: (Sanjay Kak) Yes, I can hear you.

    A: I’m going to ask other people to start. And I’m looking at the oldest guy in the room… First question coming up.

    SM: My name is Saeed Mirza. I enjoyed your film very much and I liked the attitude that you took, that was kind of an overview. Perhaps I had a certain problem with your editing, but I really found your film to be a treat. Rather than getting into the nitty-gritty of politics, you took it somewhere else and I really enjoyed it.

    SK: I’ll be happier responding to a question. But thanks to Saeed for saying what he did.

    AS: My name is Abhay Sardesai. That was a really incisive film, and all of us are full of questions and arguments. One thing that really struck me – we saw Ashok Pandit’s film before we saw yours – both the films critiqued the so-called liberal secular state for a number of reasons. Pandit talked of the State as being an emasculated / neutralizing thing and your film looked at the State as an insensible institution. What perplexed me is that you have not looked at the myth of ‘kashmiriyat’ and not assessed whether it is a myth at all, and not assessed whether the network of community networks that have been projected to exist have disintegrated over time.

    SK: Fair question. When we were researching and editing the film, there were some words that I was quite clear about avoiding, not bringing into the film – Pakistan was one, though I couldn’t avoid it , Sheikh Abdullah was another, and most of all ‘kashmiriyat’ . Its not just during this film – I’ve worked in Punjab during the 80’s , and the word ‘punjabiyat’ suddenly came up there too, and I don’t think Punjabis were familiar with the word. I am suspicious of these words dredged up during a crisis. I don’t think Kashmiris have a word like kashmiriyat, that was a word that came up in the mid-90’s, meant to answer – or be a defense – against fundamentalism, I guess. Which is not to say that what kashmiriyat denotes does not exist in Kashmir. I don’t think Kashmiri Muslims need to be told what coexistence is about. They’ve lived that, even before 1947, with a 5% Hindu minority and a 90% Muslim majority and a rapacious king ruling above them. I wouldn’t be delusional about co-existence. It’s a complex and un-interrogated idea and I’m not comfortable either glibly endorsing it or trashing it. I just think that it needs to be taken apart somewhere else – this is not the time and place for it.

    AS: Thanks for the answer, Sanjay – just wanted to take you up about something you said, the fact that you are not very sure that something this composite actually existed…

    SK: I’m not saying I don’t think it exists – just that in times of crisis to extract it and put glitter on it and suggest we are all deviating from it… I have a problem with that.

    AS: I’m not promoting Kashmiriyat as an answer juxtaposed against Nehruvianism. I found you were framing various moments where Kashmiri’s had distrust for Dogra, Punjabi rulers – you have used this moment quite perspicaciously – was wondering about the form of this argument: the avaam [people] thinking that its rulers – who have not been local – and so people have opposed colonial squatters, how this argument is quite similar to what the RSS is also propounding about the Mughals, brushing into British rule, and it all becoming one huge amorphous mass about colonial rulers ruling over Hindu majority – I was wondering about similarity in form.

    SK: You have a point there – what is remembered is the colonial daur [period]. It’s not as if the 500 years prior to the period was some Elysian heaven, where rulers were kind and just. But there is a palpable sense of oppression which comes up very easily in Kashmir – it’s not something I came to intellectually, but in the course of the year researching / editing the film – time and again people saying: this has been our lot for 500 years. The date I refer to of the last Kashmiri king, to fix it to that date may even be a-historical, but in my choice of words I am very careful. I say in the public memory – I don’t say in history, that this is the truth – but in public memory, people think of it as 500 years of being colonized. And what happens in 1947 is a form of that, not a major break from what came before that. It is a kind of essentialising, but that’s how people regard it. I suppose it is like all nationalist arguments. And let me add that I’m as uncomfortable with Indian nationalism as Kashmiri nationalism – but in the condition where they see themselves as oppressed, it’s useful for them…

    SM: I just wanted to add something more – what you reach as an overview is a kind of sufi / philosophical position – beyond borders, Pakistan, India – there was a shot in your film where you’re following an army convoy and someone says “hum unke saath hai” – I assume during the film there was certain logistical support given by the State – like in the village…. I want to add this that it left me/us wondering, what if you had stoked a couple of flames – if you had asked the soldiers what they were doing – “Hum log yahaan hai, in log kahaan se aaye?” I think it’s a point of view that’s invaluable, because you’ve got a certain Point-Of-View.

    SK: I’m glad you picked on that shot where I was telling the soldier…. its the only point where that kind of detail is encouraged to slip through, and it’s not coincidental – its the only point where we are in proximity with the army, and so there is no pretense that we can be there without their permission and without them knowing – so that’s upfront. Your other question about asking the soldiers; frankly, what will a soldier on duty say to me that will at all ring true? Is he going to tell me that this is a load of bullshit? Is he going to tell me that he is upset with corruption?

    SM: Let me tell you about a story that occurred with me in 1990 – it was also a docu in Kashmir, the Govt. stopped me – I was at this promenade and talking to this soldier – he asked me where I was from – I said Bombay – he said, “haan haan Hindustani.” As I was talking to him he thought I was in his world, and he said “In madherchodhon…” then saw my beard and said “In bichaaron…” It’s a point of attitude and nuance that is vital to understand. In the nature of a conversation perhaps a lot of things could have been revealed….

    SK: I just want to say one thing here. In this film, I haven’t actually spoken to any people – that should be quite obvious – I don’t believe Kashmir is a place where anybody finds it worth their while to speak the truth, whether my name is Sanjay Kak or Saeed Mirza. The very fact that I’m carrying a video camera means I could be on any side – and their first instinct is to be suspicious. So when you do hear people talking, it’s always in a public situation, either the people are political figures, or during a survey, or in the psychiatric ward, that was the search during the film. I’m not bringing truth or reality into this at all. So why would I give a soldier a different space – it’s possible a soldier who was told I am Sanjay Kak from Delhi might be more comfortable, but I would not have been comfortable privileging his comfort with me, over the discomfort of ordinary Kashmiri’s when talking to cameras and the press. They tell the journalists what they want to hear, not what they want to say, because that is a question that’s 17 years old and its not valid any more.

    SM: Point accepted.

    SK: Thank you.

    NA: Hi this is Nancy Adajania. I am deeply touched by your film and have seen it twice over, but a few questions continue to persist. One thing that has affected me is the poetics and the motif of shahadat, by using found footage, militant videos, the litany of people, the census officer making a census of people being killed. Those two motifs work really well and take you away from understanding the Kashmiri conflict as merely a geo-political debate. But I feel that there is not enough of a nuanced understanding of the history of militancy in Kashmir – the very strength of the film using the motif of shahaadat can come in the way of making a politically nuanced film about what militancy has done to the people of Kashmir – for example, there was Yasin Malik, there were a lot of reports about state repression, etc. Many years have passed and there have been many takes on militancy from Kashmiri’s themselves and some history would have helped apart from poeticizing. Feminist groups have talked about acid attacks on women – the bhaand’s that you have talked about – there have been stories about tongues being mutilated – to echo Saeed Mirza’s point, nuance. I think even Geelani’s position has changed – these details would have been helpful to understand that it is not just one homogenous litany. If there are threats to Kashmiri Islam, that needs to be raised as well. Somewhere, is there a question that is going out that if there is an independent Kashmir, would it be a Muslim Kashmir, because that is how your film comes out. I hope you don’t misunderstand.

    SK: I’ll try and address it, from the tail though. I don’t know what kind of place Kashmir will be if/when it is Azaad. Will it be Islamic or secular – I don’t know the answer, I don’t think anybody in Kashmir knows the answer… The threats to Kashmiri Islam: there have been phases where that has appeared – whether it has been with shrines or with women. But I would be very cautious of accepting at face value a demonisation by the media of what is “hard Islam”, what is “Kashmiri Islam”, what people are finding acceptable, the threat to Kashmiri womanhood and so on… Kashmiri women are probably less threatened than women in Bhopal or Hyderabad or Bombay. Because we have one Aasiya Andrabi with a hijaab – and only a slit where her eyes are – trotted out whenever we want to show there is a threat to liberal soft Islam, I don’t have to buy into that. If you looked for some evidence within the film – we sort of open with a funeral procession in 1994, and I close the film with a procession in 2005. Look at the number of women there, and how many of those women are conforming to stereotypes? I don’t see it. I’m not denying there must have been phases where it happened, but its not what I see.

    NA: Why have you not shown those glitches, those phases?
    SK: Where does one begin? Sometimes you may feel that this is all too coherent, this naare-baazi and breast beating in the film. My short answer is YES. I don’t think there is a political or religious manifesto that guides what is going on in Kashmir. But what you can bank on is what I show in the film, which is a very strong sentiment, which expresses itself as rage, breast-beating… Can it be more than that? I’m sure it can, but under the circumstances of what is happening in Kashmir, and the level of oppression, I don’t think we are going to get too many nuanced answers… To go back to the shifts in the history of the movement, this is a terribly vexed territory. In popular lore and Indian scholarship, we have a certain path charted for us – there was a rigged election and people were fed up and they took to arms and there was a secular JKLF movement and then Pakistan took over and the non-secular Hizbul Mujahideen took over through Pakistan – I think the reality is much more complicated. For example, I don’t think the JKLF was always that secular – that history is much more complex.

    NA: Why not portray that complexity?
    SK: Because I’m not afraid of simplicity, because that simplicity is sometimes carrying a very complex argument. I think that the Indian middle class – especially the liberal progressive class – has always taken shelter behind the three screens: Pakistan (and how can you be sympathetic to something they are fuelling); Islamic Jihad (how can we possibly make place for something this fundamentalist), and Kashmiri Pandits (how can you possibly deal with a place that has expelled its Pandit minority.) At a pinch, the complexity you are asking from me might be the fourth layer – “look, its not that simple, its not one movement”. But nor was the Freedom movement in India! Tell me one movement in the world that is consistent? Tell me one liberation movement which has been historically consistent, where it has been possible to plot all the shades and nuances?

    NA: I’m not looking for a blueprint of the movement or what it would become when independent, but even if we don’t have answers, we must give as many possible shades of opinions and nuances – historicity should run parallel to poetics. I must end by saying I am deeply touched by the film and lots of people should see it.

    SK: We also have our editor Tarun Bhartiya sitting in Shillong, so if there is a specific question on form…

    A: Trying to connect with him separately, but a three way talk is difficult… Saeed Mirza wants to respond, and then we’ll move to Tarun.

    SM: Wanted to ask you and the editor and the cameraman – question was the nature of flitting, and when do you have an idea complete. Maybe at times, you do need to pause. I’ll give you an example – you were at the psychological centre and there was a face of a man against the window. It was a shot that stays and perhaps you could have had the conversation overlapping over the face – things like this. I had a minor problem with the editing, and I really felt there were many times you could have stayed the shot, and it cut too soon – that’s all I have to say, and this is not to split hair, I really liked the film.

    SK: Thanks, Saeed.

    SA: (Shaina Anand) This is both for you and Tarun – wish we could have done the three-way talk. I also did have some problems with the editing – to take forward what Nancy said when hoping for a more complex / nuanced exploration and your answer to that, that you were striving for simplicity, and that in itself that could be quite a complex thing… I agree with that. But then the film I’m left with had complex cutting. Saeed said ‘pause’, he has often said it to me therao! – and in the film you try to do it with the poetry / pastoral images. You work out pauses – but these are structural moments where you feel the audience is fatigued, needs a pause, to take in the ironic beauty of Kashmir, its landscape and poetry – the glass, the distorted mirror… as metaphors of Kashmir, all that came through. And perhaps my issue is in these different treatments. You have the found-footage and the metaphor of shahadat and it is so strong, you should and could be immersed in it, I would agree with you there, but somewhere the footage that you and Ranjan shoot and the subsequent edit leaves it undone. I’m all for relentless editing. I’m not for therao – I could see this footage for 4 hours, but each sequence has its own ‘trip’ that, while I formally understand your choices and what’s going on, I cant resolve it with what I know you want to convey. I feel form – and a certain level craft – is adulterating the content, both your stance and the footage’s ‘verite’. Why did you choose dissolves? Why is the ‘archival’ treated with so much effect? I look at editing as writing, we chose when we want the dot-dot-dot’s, para breaks, dark silence and moments of reckoning etc. I couldn’t justify why you chose flash cuts of a martyr’s burial, why you chose to put certain voices over pastoral landscape, certain voices over faces – I tried to figure why you chose to do what, and the answers I came to, took away from what I felt both you and Tarun wanted to convey. Because the found footage is so crucial and what you find is so crucial and they are two separate things – how they meet in the film, how they stand alone, and the poetry… Its a great film, but I think the problems Nancy has which she explains as content, I echo in form. I respect the content, respect your authorship, I think you had it all, but the language belies…

    SK: Obviously I cant respond to this in specifics – perhaps Tarun might be able to do this, but I’ll tell you one thing – in terms of form, we all like to say that we like our films to be ambiguous, don’t want them to tie up everything, dot all the ‘i’s and cross all the ‘t’s, but for me it is as important to leave that ambiguity in the form also, and I’m not comfortable making it all too tidy. For example, what are the verite sequences in the film – the psychiatric hospital, the survey of the dead, etc. I wouldn’t have been happy if they had all flagged themselves off – formally, that is, that these are verite sequences and will be treated a certain way. The fluidity that one is aspiring toward is, for me, extremely necessary in order to make the kind of nuanced argument that I am making. I am taking that word from Nancy and saying it is precisely by keeping people a little off balance and not always being predictable and only by handling the three poems in the same, generic way… Otherwise too I like the idea of the audience being puzzled by the film and the argument, one has in fact worked at that. It’s quite the opposite of ‘tidying’ it all up. I’m not a fan of the formally perfect film, I’m not even interested in it. I’m interested in form, but in a completely tactical way. Every film I have made looks different – it is only in the kind of argument one is making that there is a consistency in the films. There isn’t a perfect form in my mind that one is aspiring toward – if the form is shifty or an accident – it’s quite in that sense self-conscious, without wanting to be ragged or ad-hoc. If it does that sometimes, it’s obviously a failure, and I’ll be the first to acknowledge that. For me the test is if you show it 15-20 times and you start to change your mind. Sometimes seeing it in a different country, makes you think of it in a different way, and not as a film about Pandits, about Jihad and so on. But for now I am happy with the woolly edges of the film, its unpredictability and its lack of formal perfection, or even an aspiration to formal perfection.

    SA: I’ll hand it over, but my point was not about formal perfection – it has to be woolly, ad-hoc, has to hit us where it hurts most, leave us with more questions than answers and be formally imperfect…We appreciate the film and the formal critique was just …

    A: Strategic woolliness….

    SA: I’d take your own words – tactical – I wanted them to trouble me further rather than be out-takes like the ones that I see in hakeekat type things on NDTV…. and it could have troubled with simplicity, criticality in the form.

    NA: One last line – just to continue with what Shaina and I are talking about – just to repeat that you used the motif of shahaadat – I feel as a film director you have joined that procession of shahaadat, and I feel you lose the critical edge that you should have, has a Stockholm syndrome kind of thing happening – I mean this in a sensitive way I don’t mean to be corrosive or anything. I feel that perhaps you’ve become one more person who’s joined that procession of shahaadat and lost that little bit of distance that is required and hence that critical edge.

    SK: I think you’ve put your finger on it: in a sense, I am very much trying to get people to feel that by witnessing, they are complicit in it. I am hoping the audience has the same feeling – as a film-maker who has worked on this, I am the first to agree I am complicit. Whether I have lost my critical edge or not – there are two ways of looking at it. One is to judge it as the film itself, the other is what I am and what I think, etc. What I think is all there in the film – I am not afraid of being hostage to what my film is about, but only after I am convinced of where I stand. If I make a film about the Narmada valley and talk about what is happening from within the movement, I am not unhappy with that. So why would it be that only when it comes to an armed militancy that I would back-off from a stance which I am not uncomfortable with. One thing I do instinctively with any film is that I aspire to give a palpable sense of what it feels like to actually be there – it is certainly something I work toward and is something you can only do when you lose your critical edge. I don’t even know what it means sometimes – I’m not going to go to my death with my critical edge alive.
    Sometimes, you look at a situation and say, “I’m going to tell this story simply – it’s not going to be nuanced, but simple and disturb people because something disturbing is going on.” Sometimes, you can only understand a situation when you truly suspend critical faculties and begin to see it from inside. That’s also the kind of political person I am. For me, it’s not something I can only handle from the outside, keeping all my critical faculties intact. I would have to become hostage to what I am seeing – shaheed to their suffering and their tehreek. I am not embarrassed by that, frankly.

    N: Thank you, Sanjay.

    SK: Thanks, Nancy.

    RH: Hi this is Ranjit Hoskote. Sanjay, This is the 2nd time I’m seeing the film and it remains as moving, disturbing… I have to pursue this argument about criticality that’s been going on, again with the proviso of course that every film cannot be an encyclopedia, I’m not suggesting that at all. But I miss a certain texture of Kashmiri voice – this might not be your intention but it looks like the overtly militant part of the movement is the only true voice of Kashimiri Self-determination. Over and against that – I’m not going to juxtapose that against the Indian media, but I am thinking of people I know and trust in Srinagar, writers, poets, people like Shaad Ramzan who’s collected [books ?] on the valley which are as critical of both militants as they are of the Indian State. Or Shafi Shauq who laments the fact that the Left were [not?] the only targets of the militant movement. Rehman Rahi who points out that the Kashmiri language has never been in the agenda of Kashmiri nationalists. Lots and lots of questions, and a middle-ground between militancy and the Indian state, and I somehow feel that those voices didn’t really get through your particular handling of your film.

    SK: You are absolutely right – there is so much of the middle ground that needs to be recovered, unfortunately what has happened there is that middle ground in Kashmir has been destroyed. Destroyed by what? I don’t think there will be consensus on that even in Kashmir – whether its been destroyed by militancy or by the Indian state – the mess in intellectual and political life in Srinagar, and the valley, what has brought it to its knees? It’s a hopeless tangle – I mean the way I see it when somebody dies in Kashmir today, you never know whether he’s been killed by militants or police or its personal vendetta or what – the whole place has become a complete mess. And maybe what appears as the apparent simplification that I have indulged in is possibly a reaction to the fact that reality there has become so brutal and complex and virtually unmanageable. Its no coincidence that Kashmiri’s don’t even use the short story anymore to express themselves, or do so very reluctantly. It is only poetry that is able to cope with actually what they are talking about…. I’ll just share an anecdote in the end: when I showed my film in Srinagar, it got quite a rapturous reception – but one young man asked me that in your film it looks like just an Islamist movement, but that’s not true, it is actually a society with much more and so on. I said to him, look – I don’t know that, I just know what I see – and quite frankly I don’t even know if in the Kashmir that you are thinking about, whether there is place for someone like myself. I don’t know – but that is not for me to fret about – its for you to fret about. You figure out, what kind of society do you want, what is it going to be. One of the reasons why I find it impossible to even attempt any kind of overview, to break down the processes of the last 18 years, is that there have been such shifts and somersaults that like I said, we don’t know what represents what anymore … You mentioned the Left – I hope this is not going to be part of any transcript –
    [laughter all around… someone: its going out to the world…!]
    I’ll just say this more formally then! The Left, in its parliamentary presence in Kashmir, is certainly and totally complicit with the State and all it implies. So nobody, nobody – not Syed Ali Shah Geelani, or Farookh Abdullah, or nobody, can make a claim to having been either victim or oppressor alone. They have all at different points been part of it. I am not trying to valorise the ordinary Kashmiri over all this but the intellectual space – and particularly the intellectual space, Ranjit – is hopelessly compromised over there. And I am talking about writers and poets and journalists – whatever they might say in private conversations, about things one way or the other. I’m not blaming them for it. You or I in that situation would probably also be hopelessly compromised – it is a very hard place. I often say this: to even begin to address just how brutal and brutalizing a place the Kashmir valley is – I don’t think a documentary film can deal with it. I think just fiction – not even fiction film: how could you film something like that – only fiction, not reportage or anything else can do justice to what’s going on there.

    SP: Hi Sanjay my name is Shilpa Phadke – I want to add my voice and say how important a film I think it is. In response to the question Nancy asked first about women – you compared women in Kashmir with those in Hyderabad, Bombay, etc. – I have a problem with that – it’s comparing apples and oranges. Kashmiri women are in a different position, have to face izzat, etc. They’re in a state of siege, very different from Hyderabad, Mumbai, etc. In your film, it seems curiously gender neutral – men and women come out looking the same, feeling the same and this seems odd to me.

    SK: You are saying this based on your own experience of women in Kashmir… ?

    SP: I am conjecturing from what I have read about Kashmir, etc.

    SK: I would be very careful with an unqualified acceptance of the kind of information and rhetoric that comes out of Kashmir, especially to do with women and gender. For one, if the film does appear to be gender neutral, it’s not a hugely constructed thing – that’s the way in which I have experienced it and that’s the way most people there experience it. If there’s one thing women there have not done is they have not borne arms, but otherwise I don’t see how the humiliations heaped upon women are very different from the extreme humiliations heaped upon men. I really wish that we could admit that this issue of gender is a huge industry – and particularly the West is hugely invested in this. One of the reasons George Bush is in Iraq is presumably to save Iraqi women….

    SP: I am not suggesting that because society is Islamic women are more opressed or they need to be saved – I think they live a different reality from women in Bhopal, Indore.

    SK: When I was talking about women in these other cities, I was referring to them being Muslim women. In rural Kashmir, I think a peasant Muslim woman is freer than in large parts of Rajasthan, Bihar, etc… I thought that’s what you were asking me…

    SP: I understand that family situations etc. might differ, but what I am saying about the film is that there doesn’t seem to be any difference in the way you see men and women and I cannot believe they live similar realities – I’m not sure humiliations experienced are the same, women around the world experience gender relations that are quite different…

    NA: The effects of rape, of being a ‘half-widow’….

    AS: Just wondering about an outfit like Dukhtaran-e-Millat, which at one point of time promulgated a rule which asked the sisters to wear burkhas, and then asked them to keep Kirpans to fight the Sikh soldiers, I’m a little weary of blanketisms…

    SK: I think the Dukhtaran-e-Millat is as representative of society in Kashmir as Babu Bajrangi (of Ahmedabad) is representative of society in western India. One of the jokes in Kashmir is that people like that are on the bankroll of the Indian state, and every time they want to show how Kashmir is getting more jehadi then they surface…! I’m not saying they are not representing something, but everybody is not hanging on to every word she says, or pulling out Kirpans at her say so… And of course, we have not even begun to talk about what a huge industry of lies our media industry is. I’m not setting up a hierarchy between people who have spent time in Kashmir and those who have not, but I will guarantee you that these kinds of assertions, these generalizations that are foisted on us – these do tend to get quite shaken up when we actually go there.

    NC: Hi, this is Nikhil Chopra. I absolutely loved the film, but why I also liked the film was associations that I made that are nostalgic, because I have grown up with this association of being from Kashmir, and was part of the Punjabi elite who left in 89. I cant separate the fact that you are Sanjay Kak, a Kashmiri and a Pandit – so how does your personal sense of loss affect the access you have to the Kashmiri Muslim problem, and how does your sense of personal loss come into this film or do you just see this as reportage, how do you keep that objective eye?

    SK: Two things – one is that I’m a slightly strange deracinated Kashmiri… I speak the language, my parents are totally Kashmiri, but I didn’t grow up or go to school or college there, and to be honest, till I went in 2003, I never particularly saw myself as Kashmiri. It was a residual self-image, which I wouldn’t even dredge up,say, once in 6 months. But having spent an extended time trying to make such a film, I think I have come out of this a little more Kashmiri than I started off. I encountered something I was not at all familiar with, which is an extraordinary pride in being Kashmiri. I in fact grew up with a self-image of Kashmiris being waggish and clever and smart and that was it… I don’t know whether it’s a by-product of the conflict, but I was very struck with the great deal of pride – verging on arrogance – that people there have about being Kashmiri.
    Secondly, I don’t want to be seen as kind of cute saying this, but in the three years of being there, I don’t think I encountered a day of prejudice, personal prejudice. Remember, no one had a clue what my film was about, yet I was met with unfailing affection based on two things: one, that I was Kashmiri, two, that I would speak Kashmiri, and that I appeared to come with open hands, what in Hindi is called nihatta [without arms]. I didn’t seem to come there carrying a grudge, I didn’t want them to resolve my loss for me. For me, it’s been quite fascinating – not like some comic book ‘Roots’ kind of thing, but I know that today I am quite comfortable with the place and what is going on there, I have begun to understand how things work. The short answer is: I didn’t start this film as a Kashmiri, but I have probably ended it as one. And I insist I am not trying to be charming about it!

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Jashn-e-Azadi is available through various online outlets like amazon

You can now buy a DVD of the film, or Download it and watch
More than two years in the making, Jashn-e-azadi [How We Celebrate Freedom], is a feature length documentary by film-maker Sanjay Kak which explores the implications of the struggle for Azadi, for freedom, in the Kashmir valley.

Click here to watch the Trailer

As India celebrates the 60th anniversary of it's Independence, this provocative and quietly disturbing new film raises questions about freedom in Kashmir, and about the degrees of freedom in India.

And here is a short Interview with the film-maker.

This Jashn-e-Azadi blog is an open forum for conversations about the film, about Kashmir, and about Azadi itself.

For more information about screenings, sales and broadcast write to


For dispatches from the present

Voices of protest can be found here or call you from here

Stone in my hand

In the season of solutions, the late Eqbal Ahmad's wise words have to be remembered

Kashmir blog has the best one line blog take on Kashmir - they call it paradise, I call it home.

Zarafshan is a Kashmiri blogger whose blog (and blogrolls) are "just ways of dispersing news, views and feelings!"

For a considered discussion on the vexed issue of Pandits in Kashmir see Kasheer. And for more on this Ephemeral Existence

And a discovery called Paradise Lost

RSS Kashmir via Greater Kashmir

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Festival screenings

May 26, 2008 / International Video Festival of Kerala
Apr 28, 2008 / Dok.Fest
Feb 10, 2008 / Himalaya Film Festival
Nov 28, 2007 / International Documentary Festival
Oct 12, 2007 / Film South Asia
July 22, 2007 / Osian’s Cinefan film festival

Previous Previews

7 Dec 2007 / School of Oriental & African Studies & Sacred Media Cow
6 Dec 2007 / Workshop Theatre, School of English, University of Leeds
Egham, Surrey
3 Dec 2007 / Royal Holloway, University of London
New Delhi
26 Nov 2007 / Russian Centre of Science & Culture & Magic Lantern Foundation

New Jersey
Oct 5, 2007 / College of New Jersey
New York City
Oct 4, 2007 / Columbia School of Journalism
Oct 2, 2007 / University of Texas
Sep 28, 2007 / Temple University
Sep 27, 2007 / University of Pennsylvania
New York State
Sep 26, 2007 / Vassar College
New York City
Sep 25, 2007 / New School for Social Research
Sep 23, 2007 @ MIT
Sep 22, 2007 / SALDA
Sep 21, 2007 / University of Toronto
New Haven
Sep 20, 2007 / Yale University
Sep 18, 2007 / University of Minnesota

Aug 10, 2007 / Pure Docs, Prasad Preview, Banjara Hills

interrupted previews!! [[ MUMBAI ...
July 27, 2007 (Fri)
Vikalp: Films for Freedom @ Bhupesh Gupta Bhawan, 85 Sayani Road, Prabhadevi
July 30, 2007 (Mon)
Vikalp: Films for Freedom @ Prithvi House, Juhu...]]

July 14, 2007 / Institute of Agrl. Technologies, Queens Road
July 13, 2007 / Centre for Film & Drama, Millers Road
June 13, 2007, Pandit Vishnu Digambar Paluskar Hall
June 12, 2007, National Film Archive of India Auditorium
May 29, 2007, Blue Moon Hotel
May 26, 2007, Assam Club, Laban
May 12, 2007, Hindi Bhavan Hall
March 31, 2007, Tagore Hall
New Delhi
March 23, 2007, Sarai-CSDS
New Delhi
March 13, 2007, India Habitat Center



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