Tired of having to constantly assert his freedom of expression, filmmaker Ashvin Kumar released his new film “Inshallah, Kashmir” on the Internet, which went viral. He talks to Sudish Kamath about his tumultuous journey

Ever since he took the “Road to Ladakh” almost a decade ago, filmmaker Ashvin Kumar has been taking the route not taken. He followed up that 48-minute film that almost didn't get made, with the Oscar nominated 15-minute short “Little Terrorist” (2005) that helped in the release of a Pakistani 12-year-old boy who had crossed the border to retrieve his cricket ball; “The Forest” (2008) an environmental thriller mostly shot in Corbett National Park and Bandhavgarh National Park; and more recently, the controversial “Dazed in Doon” (2010) that was initially commissioned and later disowned by his alma mater The Doon School on the grounds that he had shown the school in bad light.

His last film “Inshallah, Football” was cleared with an adult certificate after a long battle with the censors. Tired of constantly having to assert his freedom of expression, Ashvin Kumar, on Republic Day this year, went ahead and released his new film “Inshallah, Kashmir” on the Internet. The film has since got over 50,000 views and generated a heated debate for his criticism of the Indian armed forces in Kashmir. We talk to Ashvin Kumar about the aftermath and his journey down roads not taken by his peers.

What was the response after you put up your film on the Iinternet bypassing the censors?

In no time, there were about 300 to 400 comments, some violent criticism, right-wing vitriolic that my film was funded by fundamentalists... but the balanced comments outnumbered these voices. But, it was surprising that over 50,000 people watched it. It was a last-minute knee-jerk reaction when an assistant suggested we just go ahead and put it up on the Internet after what happened to ‘Inshallah, Football'.

Tell us about your personal journey during the making the ‘Inshallah…' films. You have been called anti-national, how do you usually respond to that?

Just like we have fundamental rights, we have fundamental duties. When you see yourself in a place that's the whirlwind of conflict, you feel you have to do something. I didn't go there to make ‘Inshallah, Kashmir'. I went there to make a film on football. While making that film, I saw the other stuff. We were given unprecedented access into Kashmir, and people who aren't willing to talk opened up with honest testaments about accounts of people who have been picked up by the State, civilians who subsequently ‘disappeared'. How do you explain 10,000 people missing in Kashmir? How do you explain picking up civilians as national security and have it continue for 20 years?

Any other medium, if people are offended, they go to court. But for cinema, censorship continues. It's an archaic governing body that was enforced years ago by the coloniser. We think of us as a democracy when there are still certain parts of country that's run by the police state. An entire generation of Kashmiris is not happy with us. How do you deal with them? For the last 20 years, they have seen India as a man with the gun. Nobody reaches the age of 14 or 15 without having had a violent interaction with the Indian armed forces, or without having been humiliated. Journalists who write on such matters have their phones tapped. That's the level of intimidation and indignation that led me to make this film. A patriot would be ashamed to know what is going on. Patriotism doesn't mean launching a flag, it's the idea of freedom. That's what we fought for. Freedom for every citizen of the country. A real patriot is he who comes out and says there's something wrong here. The first step towards reconciliation is acknowledgement. You must have strength of character to look into the mirror and say we did something wrong. Let us walk in the streets, protest, allow journalists to write stories, not whitewash in the name of national security. Even freedom to SMS is a recent development in Kashmir.

Where you worried about the risk of endangering lives of ex-militants who came on camera given the sensitivity of the situation?

It continues to worry me but I found the bravest people over there. These people, when they spoke on camera were like: ‘What more can we lose?' They had come on camera to make a point. Kashmir deserves a hundred films. If you have a problem with my film, why don't you go make yours? The answer to a movie is another movie. Not banning it.

How does censorship affect the economics of documentary filmmaking given that the avenues for revenues seem limited?

It massacres, it slaughters it. It costs Rs. 25,000 to Rs. 30,000 to make an appeal to the Censor Board. Usually, the appeal committee is more conservative than the Censor Board. And if you aren't happy, you go to the High Court and then to the Supreme Court. It takes 18 months or three years before you might get a favourable verdict. Every little recourse is there to frustrate you.

The Censor Board does not realise it is now called the Central Board of Film Certification. CBFC should restrict itself to certifying. It should comprise people who understand cinema. It should be run by the film industry itself. The guidelines should be crystal clear, not whimsical, not somebody's idea of patriotism. Given all this, the money you make out of India as a documentary filmmaker is like pocket money. The Indian film distribution system is particularly obsessed with a certain kind of cinema. It's lazy, unimaginative, run by people with very little qualification. Education in cinema is wholly deficient. It's not surprising that you don't get to watch films that test your boundaries. It's a business run by gamblers putting their money on hope.

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Sudhish KamathMay 11, 2012