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Jashn-e-Azadi in China!

Last week screenings of Jashn-e-Azadi took place in Beijing and Shanghai. This was part of the West Heavens initiative, developed, as its website tells us, ‘to foster closer understanding of India through contemporary art and scholarship, and develop cross-cultural dialogue based on visual culture and notions of Asian modernity’.

It’s probably appropriate that a contentious film on Kashmir should be part of a section called “You Don’t Belong”! (To be fair, the full title of the event goes on to say: Pasts and Futures of Indian Cinema & India-China Dialogue on Film and Social Thought.) Curated by the film-scholar Ashish Rajadhyaksha, the film event saw more than 30 films screened across 4 cities – Beijing, Shanghai, Guanzhou, Kunming – and at multiple venues in each city. Most remarkably, all the films had Chinese subtitles allowing the audiences a remarkable level of access.

In Beijing Jashn-e-Azadi was shown at the Beijing Film Academy, which hosted the section on The Documentary: Testimony, Home, City. The BFA, like everything that we encountered in this brief week in China, is huge, has massive infrastructure, and although modelled rather closely on the film school in Moscow (more properly known by the acronym VGIK), seems very much to be riding the boom that China is currently experiencing. First world facilities, and more than 3000 students. What was surprising for the documentary screenings was the turnout: students, faculty, and members of a film club that the BFA hosts, all showed up from the first day, and the vast auditorium (it was the “medium” one we were told) was always comfortingly full. The Jashn-e-Azadi screening was followed by what was billed as “Filmmakers’ Round Table 1: Documentary Images and the Language of Rights”, hosted by Zhang Xianmin, who is a professor at the BFA, teaching Screenwriting and documentary, and highly respected for his work in promoting the independent Chinese film. The other panelist was the very successful documentary film-maker Zhao Liang. (For more on him, you could read about his much applauded five and a half hour film Petition, or turn to this interesting profile in the New York Times).

In Shanghai Jashn-e-Azadi was screened at the Shanghai Film and TV Literature Library, a remarkable public institution where people are already queing up at 10am to enter, read periodicals and books, watch films… In a city made almost grotesque by its spectacular success with capitalism, its these last vestiges of a former socialist experiment that made one a little less despondent. The audience here was mixed too, some students, but a lot of what we would call ‘ordinary’ people. The post-screening discussion was hosted by the theatre director Zhang Xian, one of the earliest independent Chinese playwrights in the Post-Mao Era. (In the discussion he identified himself as an anarchist…)

While the audience at both back venues had negligible background on Kashmir, they responded with a remarkable openness, alert not just to the particular historical event they were witnessing, but also to the aesthetic form through which the film was trying to address it. One of the most remarkable conversations I have had about Jashn-e-Azadi was with a journalist from the Chinese language newspaper Oriental Morning Post in Shanghai. The paper has done almost a full page feature on the film, and although I would definitely NOT suggest Google Translate as a way of approaching the text, the incredibly nuanced questions put by Shen Yi made me feel that this piece of writing would really open out the film to a Chinese reader.

Finally, I cannot resist putting this picture in: forgive the vanity.


A Collaborator in Kashmir

Amitava Kumar, writer and academic, has a new story out in PEN America, described as “a journal for writers and readers”. A Collaborator in Kashmir is a troubling account of a journey that Amitava makes to Sopore in north Kashmir to meet with Tabassum Guru, wife of Afzal Guru, the man sentenced to death for his part in the 2001 attack on the Indian Parliament. It makes a welcome addition to the unmasking of the terrible apparatus of oppression that has been spawned in the last two decades of military occupation in Kashmir.

I quote a passage from the piece here, because it connects Orhan Pamuk’s Istanbul with our own Srinagar:

Reading those words I thought again of Srinagar. I had flown in from “a rich Western city,” and everything there looked drab to me, draped in a dirty military green. Every house that was new looked gaudy and vulgar or curiously incomplete. Many structures were shuttered, or burnt black, or simply falling down due to disrepair. Pamuk writes that those who live in Istanbul shun color because they are grieving for a city whose past aura has been tarnished by more than a hundred and fifty years of decline. I believe Pamuk was also describing plain poverty.

Jashn-e-Azadi had shown me another Srinagar. The film’s richness lay in the space it created, in the viewers mind, despite the violence, for thought and for color. The filmmaker had discovered again and again in the drabness of the melancholy the gleam of memory: the memory of blood on the ground, of the beauty of the hills and red poppies, of the keening voices of mothers, and painted voices of village performers. Also the memory of the dead, of falling snow, of new graves everywhere, and the shining faces crying for freedom.

Others have spoken to me of a sense of connection between Pamuk’s evocations of Istanbul and Kashmir, but Amitava Kumar evokes that synapse with grace and unusual intelligence.

blog update – Jashn-e-Azadi has a trailer!

a short trailer for the film, made for the forthcoming
International Documentary Festival, Amsterdam (Nov 22-Dec 2, 2007)

[ blog flash 12&half-mumbai continued ]

pandit says ban

a nice blog entry on the episode. anyone who can produce the copy of the email complaint referred in the blog, gets a free poster from blogmistri

and a discussion at passionforcinema 

sarai reader list conversation (1 & 2) on the interruption

mumbai police 1

mumbai police’s crack critic team

mumbai police 2

mumbai police’s crack critic team 2

[ blog connection 1 – mukhtar ]

While we get our act together and post some images and comments from Shillong screenings, blogmistri suggests the following link 

[ what frenzy is this? ]

(Un)expectedly, in all the conversation of (and about) the film, blog mistri thinks the poetry in the film is being silenced. The film–in at least six places–uses poetry to break through its narrative, trying to comprehend unfreedom’s everyday face, holding a dusty old mirror onto the distorted faces of power. A mirror painstakingly made–
I smeared the glass with blood to make mirrors/My image – a stranger…
This refusal to hear the poetic, allowing the rhetorical discourse of power politics to re-establish its dominance over the viewing experience, is tragic.

One could even say that the horror and banality of unfreedom in Kashmir is not in the body count, or the secret war of fear, but in not allowing the ambiguous attempts to hold onto ‘significance’ to seep into the streets of our body. But then, only when you can control and forcibly clarify meaning for all, can you enslave… And thus at some level, attempts to construct a ‘grand narrative’ of right and wrong in Kashmir, which many seem to be doing on the blog and elsewhere, without letting the poets embarass this design, goes on to stuff Kashmir back into the coffins.


I just received images of the screening in Srinagar’s Tagore Hall and was happy to see Zarif Ahmed ‘Zarif’, one of the poet disrupters of the ‘narrative whodunit’ of the film, standing in front of the films poster. So I am re-posting one of his poems … and this time before sifting voyeuristically through all the juicy abuses we have attracted, let Zarif hand you a map of a city of love…

(trivia) : When the poem was posted earlier, it attracted just one comment >>
Rohit on Mar 2nd, 2007 at 11:47 am
Voilence breeds voilence. You sowed it and now reap it.)


Daem phuit chi gaemits myaen nazar
yoot matsar kyah?
mei rov labith lol shahar
yoot matsar kyah?

My gaze has been silenced
What frenzy is this?
I lost the city of love I’d found,
What frenzy is this?


Poozai karaan aes gaemits vaens me tsayen
aeyov ti mei ma vuch na sahar
yoot matsar kyah?

I worshipped shadows all my life
Did I alone miss the arrival of the dawn
What frenzy is this?

Mei khoon mailith sheesha patyan aaene baneyvim
aeseena panin paana khabar
yoot matsar kyah?

I smeared the glass with blood to make mirrors
My image – a stranger
What frenzy is this?


Mei togh na parun kya chu leekhit posh deewaran
kael gaem tavay laen ashar
yoot matsar kyah?

I couldn’t read the writing on floral walls
my lines of fate turned mute
What frenzy is this?


Sukrath me ahsaan karith gav ne, galath cha?
tyem myan hisukh chav na zahar
yoot matsar kyah?

Socrates did me no favour in leaving
I shouldn’t be saying this, but he didn’t drink my share of poison
What frenzy is this?


Mei rov labith lol shahar
yoot matsar kyah?
daem phuit chi gaemits myaen nazar
yoot matsar kyah?

I’ve lost the city of love I’d found,
What frenzy is this
My gaze has been silenced
What frenzy is this?

Poem by Zarif Ahmed ‘Zarif’, Srinagar, Kashmir

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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