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.


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

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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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