Kashmir Observer / Sunday April 15, 2007
The Director Speaks
Last week Jashn-e-Azadi director Sanjay Kak sat down for a short chat with Kashmir Observer correspondent David Lepeska. Nursing a cold yet relishing his moment in the sun, the filmmaker sipped lemon tea on a bright spring morning and spoke of his film’s intent and the changing security situation in the Valley.
What did you think of the animated response to the recent screening of your film at Tagore Hall?
For some time now it’s been quite risky to talk in Kashmir. People generally say what they think you want to hear. I think this gave them an opportunity to open up, and they embraced it.
Why now, after all these years of conflict, have you made Jashn-e-Azadi?
There has been a shift in how Indians look at Kashmir. Maybe the old certainties haven’t changed, but at least they are coming under question. People are more receptive to these ideas – they are saying ‘Wait. Is there a problem here? What is it?’
The SAR Geelani case was very important because it made people more skeptical of Indian government and media in terms of Kashmir. For instance, when I started making the film three years ago it was intended to begin a conversation. But in the interim things have changed, the conversation has begun, and India is more receptive.
Was it difficult to get this screening?
Not at all. As a Kashmiri Pandit I had the element of surprise. (Mr. Kak’s film was not previewed by the authorities.) The government is so used to people coming here and toeing the official line that such a thing as my film seems outside the realm of possibility…I bet next time they’ll preview the film (smiling).
With training videos of Lashkar and angry speeches from separatists, the film appears to support militancy.
See, people don’t even know what those guys represent. People think it’s just about India and Pakistan; Kashmiris are absent from the discourse. I’m trying to bring them back to center stage. Just because India is sitting on top of them doesn’t mean Kashmiris have given up.
In much of the world militancy is associated with fanaticism, with terrorism. I wanted to show that this is not fanatical; it has its reason, its logic. How is it more logical for Americans to say they are fighting in Iraq for Iraqis? Also, people equate shahid (martyr) with suicide bomber, and that’s not the case. Essentially I want my viewer to engage with these ideas. He might not agree with me, but at least he’s seen them.
You recently said that the withdrawal of Indian troops could lead to trouble – taking the lid off a boiling pot, sort of speak. What did you mean by that?
Political life in Kashmir has been subverted. You can’t rightly call it democratic elections when there are 6 lakh soldiers keeping watch. So when I say trouble I don’t mean militancy run amok. I mean that there will be significant changes in the politics, like the old guard of politicians and political parties being marginalized, for instance – and this would not necessarily be a bad thing.
If India was a dictatorship, Kashmiris would have less of a problem with this treatment, but since India has pretensions towards liberal democracy the sense of being cheated is greater.
The film seems to have energized young Kashmiris.
I’d be very excited if my film could inspire young people here towards art, film, photography, towards outlets that were truly expressive of society.
You’ve said you were shocked with the difference since 1989 when you visited the Valley in 2003. What about now – any noticeable changes since 2003?
Srinagar has been transformed since 2003; there is a huge difference. The bunkers are mostly gone, there are fewer checkpoints, people can move about in my Maisuma neighborhood much more freely. I couldn’t have made this film back then, things were too tightly controlled. And I’m not sure we could’ve run this screening in 2002 – we wouldn’t have had this crowd. People would’ve been too worried to come out.
Your film has a distinct lack of narrative structure, of historical detail. Why?
Totally intentional, of course. Facts are great but at the end of it we still don’t understand why. I wanted to remind people of the price we paid for freedom because that’s where all this begins, or where we think it begins, and then look more closely at Kashmir. The details are often confusing, and the way to the head is through the heart. I wanted to bypass the normal debate. Also, even though the conflict has been going on all this time and there have been all these various events and incidents, in principle, we are in the same place, right where we started.