About a decade ago I had a conversation with a Bollywood producer who had reached Kashmir in search of location to shoot. That was years before Vishal Bhardwaj’s film Haider was made, the film co-written by a Kashmiri writer, Basharat Peer. I asked the producer if the film industry (Bollywood) was interested in stories written by local writers. The producer’s reply was half truth and condescending. He said filmmaking costs money and unless producers are sure about the story fetching good money at box office, they won’t consider it. His opinion was that local stories no matter how intense, passionate or painful they were wouldn’t sell, particularly in India. Everyone in Kashmir can understand what he meant and the political undertone his response carried. Money being important for filmmaking goes without saying. The response though didn’t stop me asking the same question to another Bollywood filmmaker Imtiaz Ali after some time. He sounded more truthful while replying. He suggested that instead of asking others to tell your stories, people in Kashmir should start telling their own stories. What he meant was, people in Kashmir should start telling their own stories rather than expecting from others to do it for them.
Filmmaking, beside the story or well-written script, also needs expertise in techniques, logistics and managing funds. Kashmir, which harbors immense talent, considerably lacks in logistic support and financing. There are not many funding agencies around which can promote and fund local filmmakers. The government patronage to works of art is minimal. However, events like the recently held Kashmir World Film Festival (second edition) can go a long way in helping people to tell their stories through cinema and make youth realize their true story telling potential.
The five-day Kashmir World Film Festival (KWFF) at Tagore Hall provided a platform to local filmmakers to showcase their work. More importantly it provided space to film students to exhibit their works. And credit should also go where it’s due, the organizers of the festival also ran a film workshop for local film students, where they had a chance to interact with filmmakers of the caliber of Saeed Mirza, and Govind Nehlani.
Besides watching Bollywood movies, the film festival exposed the students to world cinema. The screening of films like Vittorio De Sica’s “Bicycle Thieves” and Majid Majidi’s “Children of Heaven” received appreciation, from film students as well as veteran filmmakers attending the festival.
“Bicycle Thieves” is a classic representation of Italian neorealism – the film movement that emerged in Italy post world war II. These films are set among the poor and struggling working class people and depicted the changing psyche of people after witnessing the devastation of war. The movement was characterized by portraying oppression, injustice and desperation among people. The films were shot in real settings with unprofessional actors, and yet have proved to be all time masterpieces in world cinema. The Iranian cinema that most of the people in Kashmir find proximity with is believed to have been influenced by Italian neorealism. Iranian New Wave Cinema which started in mid 60s witnessed emergence of innovative film having high political and philosophical content. The works of Iranian filmmakers – Jafar Panahi, Mohsen Makhmalbaf, Abbas Kiarostami Amir Naderi, and Majid Majidi whose film “Children of Heaven” was screened in KWFF could be a benchmark for local filmmakers. The French film movement Cinema Verite that gained currency in 60s and, Direct Cinema technique which was practiced in USA and Canada at the same time is something the local budding filmmakers can take cue from in the present circumstances. More the film festivals like KWFF expose the film students to various movements of world cinema, more refined, thought provoking films would emerge in near future in Kashmir. This will also help filmmakers to look beyond Bollywood.
The main objective of conducting the festival, which was also discussed during the festival, was how to revive the “cinema culture” in valley. The festival witnessed strong pitches in favor of opening up cinema halls in valley which were closed in early 90s after militancy broke out. Will cinema halls open in Kashmir in days to come, only time will tell. But what the festival already did was it has stirred the aspiring filmmakers in Kashmir to tell their own stories. Many young media students exhibited their work in the film festival and one wouldn’t have expected more from them what they came up with.
State government has also been pitching for opening up cinema halls in Kashmir. The cabinet minister Naeem Akhtar while inaugurating the KWFF also talked about it. The matter of the fact is Kashmiris never stopped watching films after cinema halls were closed in Kashmir. State rather than working towards opening up the cinema halls can generate lot of goodwill for itself by encouraging and providing local filmmakers with avenues to tell their stories. The state would also need to be more receptive and accommodative to films which are contrary to their belief system. But this would be easier said than done. High time government pays heed to director of the WKFF Mushtaque Ali Ahmad Khan who in the concluding session of the festival said how local filmmakers were insulted by the State whereas every facility was provided to the filmmakers from outside.
The role of corporate sector to support film ventures in Kashmir is also disappointing. There’s no concept of “corporate responsibility” in Kashmir. The corporate sector needs to show their concern and commitment towards environment and social issues without being condescending. Already allegations are making rounds that certain corporations in valley have funded projects of non-state filmmakers for film that was never made. A premier bank of the state is said to have funded many film projects from outside, while ignoring the local talent.
Kashmir needs to develop its own cinema and theatre, and should stop looking forward to Bollywood for inspiration. For this people need to be exposed to world cinema and theatre movements. People here need to stand up and support such ventures.