“It was in Gulmarg that I held the hand of a girl for the first time,” says Ashvin Kumar, tracing back his special relationship with Kashmir, which has often formed the core of his cinema. Kumar, who has earlier showcased different aspects of the Valley in Inshallah, Football (2010) and Inshallah, Kashmir (2012), returns to the Valley again, with No Fathers in Kashmir. This time he tells a coming-of-age story, told through the eyes of a teenaged girl, Noor, as she experiences the conflict and its consequences first-hand, on her first visit from England.
“My grandfather, on my mother’s side, is a Kashmiri. Throughout my childhood, we would go to Kashmir from Calcutta every year for holidays. Kashmir was this magical land, almost mythological. We would reach Amritsar from Calcutta and head to Srinagar in a Fiat in the late ’70s and ’80s, which would plunk up the hill,” says Kumar, 46. “Then in 1989, when the insurgency started, the visits stopped,” he says.
No Fathers in Kashmir is Kumar’s first feature film on the Valley, the previous two being documentaries. It stars Zara Webb, Shivam Raina, Kulbhushan Kharbanda, Soni Razdan and Kumar himself in key roles. The story unfolds through Noor, as she visits her ageing grandparents, the parents of her ‘absent’ father, and befriends Majid, a teenaged boy from the neighbourhood. All this while, she keeps uploading the photos on social media.
“I have made two very angry films earlier but I also realised that those films were talking about the past, even though a lot of it is still continuing, it has become scarier. In 2009, when I made Inshallah, Football, the captions at the end of the film read, ‘That if the issues of the generation are not addressed, and they decide to pick up arms, the consequences can be catastrophic.’ It’s a matter of deep shame, that 10 years later we have Pulwama, by a 20-year-old, in his attempt to be a martyr,” says Kumar, an alumnus of The Doon School, who subsequently attended St Stephen’s College.
While the film touches on many serious themes, like the half-widows of Kashmir, loss and fear, it still has a tone of wide-eyed wonder and innocence to it. Noor points her phone camera to a maggot-infested date, areas cordoned off with barbed wire, and army personnel doing the rounds around Dal Lake, with a sense of bewilderment and curiosity.
“This film, in particular, speaks to the millennials. They have had the luxury of choices, an upwardly mobile lifestyle, whereas the kids of Kashmir have seen war, humiliation and other violent horrors. We speak of opportunities available for the youth of the youngest country in the world, what about the Kashmiri youth? Here the internet is shut off at the drop of a hat, they are cut off from the rest of the world. There are no film halls, no outlets for them,” says Kumar, who has made seven films so far, including the Oscar-nominated short film Little Terrorist in 2005. “When you start understanding these things, you can perhaps understand why they pick up stones. Kashmir is a crisis of compassion.”
There is a nod to Kashmiri Sufism in the film, and we see the plight of the Kashmiri weavers as well. “It took me five years to write this. I had to show the complexities and the sheer depth of the subject at hand. I had to take out many scenes, and keep the narrative central to the two kids. I know, what I have attempted, is very difficult, we had to respect the sentiments on both sides, which are mercurial and fragile. That’s not my job as a filmmaker. But accurate, fair representation, that’s my job. An even-handedness is needed. Even with the armed forces, you have the Major saying, ‘I don’t know how to do my job here. Give me an enemy I can see’,” says Kumar. “And even the casting of Anshuman (Jha) as the Major — he is not the typical ‘how’s the josh’ kind of guy. He could work in a bank, for that matter.”
No Fathers in Kashmir also marks the second collaboration of Kumar with his mother, designer Ritu Kumar, who has designed the costumes for the film. The duo had earlier worked together on Little Terrorist. “None of those prints and motifs that you see in the film exist anymore. She went to V&A Museum in London and other museums in France to research and recreate these designs. Some of the shawls got stolen, and that is sad,” adds Kumar, who after a long struggle with the CBFC and a petition to the Film Certificate Appellate Tribunal, has finally got a U/A certificate. The film is slated to release on April 5.
But he hopes the message of the film gets across to its target audience, the millennials. “We have the most important elections coming up. I just hope the young people come out and vote. This time, with many first time voters, maybe they can understand that there is an entire population of their contemporaries, who have been alienated and isolated. These young voters can ask their MPs what their Kashmir policy is,” he signs off.
Courtesy The Indian Express