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IFFK 2019 | 'No Fathers in Kashmir': a crisis of compassion

Director Ashwin Kumar with the lead actors of No Fathers in Kashmir Shivan Raina (Majid) and Zara Webb (Noor)

Director Ashwin Kumar with the lead actors of No Fathers in Kashmir Shivan Raina (Majid) and Zara Webb (Noor)  

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Ashvin says each of the crises in trouble-torn Kashmir can have its own film as so many issues cry out to be highlighted

In an age of shrill arguments and polarised debates, those trying to navigate the nuanced spaces in between are a disappearing tribe.

Ashvin Kumar has been doing just that over the past two decades, focusing his lens on one of the most polarised of India’s debates – Kashmir. From his early days, with the Oscar-nominated short Little Terrorist, on a 10-year old Pakistani boy accidentally crossing over to the Indian side, to his latest No Fathers in Kashmir, on two teens in search of their ‘disappeared’ fathers, he has kept returning to the State.

He says that there were so many human rights issues that were crying out to be highlighted that each of the crises in Kashmir can have its own film.

“I guess a lot of the reason for me going back again and again to Kashmir was that one really never felt satisfied with the idea that the work one was doing over there was enough, because there is so much that has not been told. It is the tragedy of a remarkable people and a place of deep culture. The fact that such a place exists in our country is a big problem. The more the State represses information coming out from Kashmir, the more there is space for people like us to go out and tell the stories from there,” says Kumar, in an interview on the sidelines of the International Film Festival of Kerala, where No Fathers in Kashmir was screened on Saturday.

Strategies

But, over the years, he has cut down on his anger and reworked his strategies in an effort to make the other side empathise. “Whenever I have screened my films, a question which kept coming was that ‘Does this really happen there? Is this army really like that in Kashmir?’ Some were in denial, while others were genuinely perplexed. I noticed that some of my documentaries were putting up more and more walls. “To address this problem, we need to come up with something that can emotionally put the person who is watching the film in the shoes of the person who is going through these atrocities. What this film is trying to do is to make the audience get involved with the story of these two kids, to get under the skin of the audience and make them feel that what is happening is not good,” he says.

The filmmaker feels that the voices of rationality, including those in the opposition parties, failed to stand up and say that the act is unconstitutional and illegal, when the Central Government repealed Article 370 and put Kashmir under a communication blockade.

“It is a blatant act of illegality that has taken place, but it has the support of almost the entire country. This support has been carefully crafted. I think Kashmir is a crisis of compassion, a lack of understanding of what the other person wants or even the lack of wanting to engage with the actual needs of the other person and only putting across one point of view,” he says.

This is one reason why children have been central to the narrative of most of his films till date, as he thinks they have a certain sense of innocence and curiosity that is lost in our public discourse.

“They have a sense to listen to somebody else’s point of view. They don’t judge so much and even if they do initially, they are very open to change their minds. One of the biggest tragedies of Kashmir is to see how the children have been terribly brutalised, with thousands of kids in jails today. In this film, I have worked with teens, because it’s that time of the life when they become aware of the world. The politics and the harsh realities make themselves very apparent in that age, especially in Kashmir,” says Kumar.

Travel documentary

He is currently working on two films and also a travel documentary on how India has changed in the past two decades.

“Exactly two decades back, we began this journey across the country from Thiruvananthapuram, filming along the way and meeting people. We had a theme for each State, with theatre being the theme for Kerala. When we watched that old footage about few months ago, it looked particularly good. So, we are doing a similar journey,” he says.

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Printable version | Jan 26, 2020 5:35:19 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/Thiruvananthapuram/no-fathers-in-kashmir-a-crisis-of-compassion/article30233785.ece

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