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A conspiracy of silence

BUDHADITYA BHATTACHARYA
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DOCUMENTARY Director Bilal Jan on his film “Ocean of Tears”, and the struggles it has faced. BUDHADITYA BHATTACHARYA

Heart wrenching experienceStills fromthe film.
Heart wrenching experienceStills fromthe film.

When Vishal Bhardwaj went to shoot “Haider”, his upcoming adaptation of Hamlet, at the University of Kashmir recently, a scene featuring the tricolour triggered protests. Students held up pro-Azadi placards and shouted slogans. Curiously, in the grievances they voiced, another filmmaker found mention: Bilal Jan.

A Kashmiri filmmaker, Bilal is the director of the documentary “Ocean Of Tears”. Some time back, it was scheduled to be screened at the University, but half an hour before it started, the organisers pulled the plug, citing a potential law and order problem. If “Haider” was allowed to be shot on campus, why “Ocean of Tears” was not allowed to be screened, the students asked.

“It’s very strange. The film has got a censor certificate and the U category which means unrestricted viewing…So when they told me the reason might be a law and order problem, I said ‘what are you saying’. They said they are sorry, but I was a little bit disturbed. My question to them is what could be the law and order problem if it has been passed by the highest body?’ says Bilal. The director’s bafflement wouldn’t be lessened when the film travelled to Aligarh Muslim University; it met with the same fate there.

Made in 2012, the 27-minute PSBT film details the suffering of Kashmiri women over the course of the turbulent past couple of decades. “It’s a holistic approach towards the violence against women on Kashmir. There was no film earlier on this topic. There have been films on women empowerment, but no film on violence against women,” Bilal says proudly. “Violence is violence, whether it is done by a father, militants or security forces. So I have highlighted all of these.”

The director interviews the men and women of Kunan Poshpora, victims of the alleged 1991 mass rape by the army. “We saw our women in tattered clothes. People from nearby villages had come in vehicles to help us. They nursed our womenfolk. We were not in a position to even help ourselves. We were brutally tortured all night by soldiers,” says the elderly Mohammad Amin, barely able to hold back the tears.

“It is so humiliating to narrate and re-narrate what happened on that night,” one of the women says in the film. The director kept in touch with the victims, and focused not just on the incident, but their struggles and worries in its wake. “Eventually they co-operated with me,” he recalls. A woman comes forward and shows the scars on her stomach, yet another speaks of the medical expenses she incurs monthly.

Another important segment of the film deals with the issue of disappearances. “This is one of the largest and biggest issues. We have more than 10,000 disappeared persons, according to an unofficial record. Every month their families hold protests but no one has heard their voice so far. So I think if I could show it, maybe someone could come forward and address their issues as well.”

Bilal has been frustrated in his efforts. But at the same time, he draws hope from the screenings at numerous film festivals — Nepal, Mexico, Kolkata, Oklahoma. “I am very thankful to the common people, particularly the vernacular press which has stood by me,” he says.


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