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SRINAGAR, Jul 8 2011 (IPS) - If films are the voice of society, then Indian Kashmir is mute, with a virtually non-existent film industry and the subsequent inability to nurture local talent.
The state also fails to measure up to Bollywood – as the Indian film industry is known – which has been producing countless films that are also being shown internationally. Ironically, many Bollywood blockbusters have been shot in Kashmir.
“Kashmir is one of the few places in the world which does not have its own film industry,” Ayaan Ahmad, a Kashmiri film student at the Centre for Research in Art of Film and Television in New Delhi, told IPS.
Filmmakers here say the dismal state of culture and arts, films included, is a result of the violence that has plagued Kashmir for nearly two decades. “I think the absence of a film industry must be seen within the context of the wider cultural space in Kashmir, now almost destroyed by 20 years of conflict,” filmmaker Sanjay Kak told IPS.
Kak said Kashmir’s older traditions of music and theatre are languishing while new traditions have simply not been given the space to grow. “But this is hardly surprising, since a new culture cannot grow within the deeply militarised space that Kashmir is.”
Violence has wracked Kashmir since 1989, when insurgents started waging a struggle for freedom from India, which controls two-thirds of Kashmir territory. Tens of thousands are estimated to have been killed since the insurgency began. “We have gone through so much during 20 years of conflict which we want to show through films, but we cannot,” said Ahmad.
The first Kashmiri movie was “Manziraat” (Henna ceremony) released in 1964 and screened at a theatre in the main city of Kashmir. It was well received by the general population and even won the President’s Award for the best regional film in Kashmir.
After Manziraat, there was “Shayar-e-Kashmir Mehjoor” (Poet of Kashmir Mehjoor), a joint venture of the Kashmir Department of Information and Bollywood filmmakers, shot in both the Urdu and Kashmiri languages.
Since the release of Mehjoor nearly 40 years ago, filmmaking in Kashmir has stagnated. No feature film has been produced since then, except for the 2001 movie “Bub” (Father) directed by Jyoti Sarup, which won the National Film Award. Bub, though, was shown in the theatres of Jammu only and not in Kashmir, which is one of three regions in the northern state formally called Jammu and Kashmir. (The third region is Ladakh).
The start of the insurgency in 1989 further set back the production of Kashmiri films. Even movie houses were closed down. A feature film titled “Inqilab” (Revolution) was produced in 1989 but was not released due to the turbulent situation.
In the meantime, made-for-TV miniseries filled the void brought about by the absence of Kashmiri movies. The most popular among them were “Rasool Mir” (1974-1975), “Habba Khatoon”(1977-1978), and “Arnimaal” (1982-1983). All three were profiles of ancient poets of Kashmir.
The first digital Kashmiri feature film was released in 2006. Titled “Akh Daleel Loolech” (A love story), the movie revolved around the social and political struggle of the people of Kashmir in the 19th century while focusing on a true love story. The film was directed by Aarshad Mushtaq and premiered in New Delhi.
Filmmaker Kak said television could have been a way to sustain and nurture a new film culture but Doordarshan, India’s public television broadcaster, has never been able to overcome its bureaucracy and its mandate of producing propaganda.
“Money has been poured like sewage down the drains of the Doordarshan channels, but it has failed to produce good television, failed to nurture genuine talent, and failed even to produce effective propaganda,’’ Kak said.
Director Mushtaq views the lack of government support for the local film industry as a deliberate attempt by India to control Kashmir. “Local language films would popularise the local language and culture, which breed a feeling of being a different race,” and would thus lead to questioning of “India’s take over,” he said.
It is not just the film industry, but also film and media schools that are missing in Kashmir. There are no schools that provide training for filmmaking, acting or theatre.
“Institutions like the cinema and theatre are the hubs from where questions are raised, and the questions, if raised in Kashmir, always put India in a fix and slippery situations. So there are no liberal arts and cinema or theatre schools for Kashmir, a matter of national policy by India,” Mushtaq said.
A local artist who requested anonymity said orthodox Kashmiri society does not understand the worth of intellectuals and artists, thus restricting the introduction of media schools. “Kashmiris look down upon filmmakers and the like. Parents here want their children to be doctors and engineers, so that they can earn good money, and that is how they groom their children too. Inborn talents have no worth.”
The state of Jammu and Kashmir does not have its own Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, and comes under the purview of central government. All cultural and other media related activities are pursued under the state’s cultural ministry largely through the Jammu and Kashmir Academy of Art, Culture and Languages (JKAACL).
JKAACL public relations officer Syed Shakeel-ur-Rehman said that it is outside the purview of the Academy to finance or provide infrastructure for films in Kashmir.
“We provide platforms to popularise locally made films by holding film festivals and competitions every year. We rate the films and award them too,” said Rehman, adding that filmmakers need to approach the film division of India about their issues.
However such festivals have been at a standstill for the past two years. “Lately we have been unable to hold film festivals, too, because we are not getting any funds,” Rehman said.
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