A letter to Vidhu Vinod Chopra

Pain is a glue that binds us, not a wall that sets us apart
A letter to Vidhu Vinod Chopra

I am writing to you like your protagonist writes to thePresidents of America. Of course with a difference. He pledges to continuewriting even if no president responds, but mine is a one-time attempt no matterI receive a response or not. He wrote 1664 letters, I am writing the first and(probably) the last.

I watched SHIKARA with a twin sense of nostalgic joy andpain. Joy echoed in the scenes of togetherness, friendship, fellow-feeling anda common bond of Hindu-Muslim celebrations shown in the film. Pain paid a visiton seeing a peaceful Kashmir getting consumed by flames of violence. It was anemotional throwback to a Kashmir of nineties. A better, closer and a moreplausible version of the story than Roja, Lamha, Fana, Yehan, Notebook and yourown previous mission to reach Kashmir – Mission Kashmir.  This one is not an overblown, hyperactive,cinematic somersault where an ordinary viewer is found nowhere in the scene. Itanchors a common Kashmiri to a common Kashmir. That makes it worth a watch.

I have just two points. One on the letter and the other onthe spirit of the film. Given the standard of filmmaking you are known for,this one falters. It lacks attention to the detail. Take a scene. When Shiv –the hero of the film – is asked by militants to come with them, he gets intothe car as if he is invited to a fancy event. Even after seeing a boy holding agun inside the van, he quietly sits without resisting or asking any question.It doesn't happen even in films, not to speak of the real life. And then hereaches a place where his friend turned militant Lateef Lone is hiding alongwith his fellow militants. Do we need any classified knowledge about theguerilla warfare to know that anyone summoned to the militant hideout is firstblindfolded to ensure that whereabouts are not leaked once the man goes out.Does it show the trust that Lateef still reposes in his buddy Shiv that thelatter will not spy on him once he leaves the spot. If yes, why then does hestill warn Shiv by saying `Is Jagah Ki itila Kisi Ko Matt Dena, HindustaniAgentoon Ko Goli Maar Detay Hain Hum'. Even those are blindfolded who getkidnapped and killed. Here the man was sure to go back home. How naïve would itbe on part of gunmen hiding away from the army and people to fetch a man, drophim back and expose the whole track that leads to their hideout.

There is a discordant jumble of shots which may escape anon-Kashmiri but anyone familiar with the roads, lanes, and streets of Srinagarcan't miss.  The spot where the doctor isshot appears different from different camera angles and the street down whichhis body is dragged doesn't square with the background of the first location.Well that may be too fine a detail to focus on, but where is Dalgate? The busconductor shouts `Dalgate is here', `Dalgate is here' but there is no Dalgatein sight. Stopping the bus at Boulevard and calling it Dalgate is missing amere mile. Though it doesn't break the story line, but it reflects the haste onpart of the bus conductor or the filmmaker or both.

When a Kashmiri businessman approaches Shiv in Jammu askinghim to sell his house, he introduces himself as Muhammad Shafi. When Shiv callshim back after a few days denying the offer, he calls him Shafi Muhammad.Things do reverse from Kashmir to Jammu but not as fast as this.

Meray Abba Ka Qatl-e-Aaam Huva. This line massacres Urdulanguage. Qatl-e-Aam is too much to translate the killing of a single man. Itsignifies indiscriminate killing which comes close to genocide. Such lines makean otherwise solid script spongy in appeal.

Call them goof-ups or continuity jerks or productionglitches which no piece of cinema is free from, but that is how it is.

Now the spirit. Any student of cinema will capture the wholefilm in a line. `Kashmiri Muslims grabbed the property of Kashmiri Pandits,legally if possible forcibly if necessary'. The rest is a detail which the filmoffers by giving some snapshots of (what we call) `the other side of thestory'. Some balancing acts like showing Lateef as a smart cricketer and not ahooligan-turned-militant and offering him his father's death a reason to becomea gunman prove too thin to catch an eye. But see how convincing the other partof the message is. A Muslim milkman drops a hint at the gate of the Panditfamily that they should now make planks tough enough to hold milk canes, notbooks suggesting that their home will now be occupied by them. (It also echoesthat old social classification of presenting Pandits as educated elites andMuslims as illiterate ordinary). A Haji Sahab appears in his true colours whenhis apparent sympathy is exposed as evil. He keeps boys from burning the Pandithouse actually with an intent to occupy it himself. A cold-blooded dry-fruitMuslim businessman wears the coat of a slain Pandit doctor so shamelessly andhis oily words fail to sweet-talk a prestige-conscious Pandit into selling hisproperty. That is your way of introducing me as a Kashmiri Muslim.  But I am a bit beyond that.

While narrating your pain, you have inflicted the pain onme. Our tragedy is common, but you have drawn a line. I am not asking you to mixMuslim tragedy with Hindu tragedy and lose the heart of your story. That willdilute the whole theme which you seek to approach from a personal point ofview. I don't mean what you are showing in the film didn't happen. I don't meanyours is a piece of fiction far from reality. But a wider lens will make thescene wider. Then you will focus on the other part of the story too. You willfind a Kashmiri Muslim defending the right of his Pandit neighbor and friend.Both his right to live his life and his right to own his property. Every story– I understand – is subjective and I respect that subjectivity. My story willfundamentally be the story that defines me, not you. So if I grant myself asingularity as a story teller I should not deny you the same. When you castlight on a single object, the other surrounding objects naturally come undershade and that is what art, literature or cinema is about. But thatsubjectivity shouldn't cloud the truth we try to half hide and half show.History of Kashmir issue, the magnitude of pain we suffered, the denial, thepersecution and the whole tale of destroying the dignity of Kashmiri Muslims –all apart, but your fact – we accept – is a fact. Pandit story is the story ofloss. Loss of life, loss of property and – above all – loss of roots. Denyingthat will be missing the core of the story. We must have honesty to accept thetruth by accepting the wrongs done to you. I for myself must not – and will not– hesitate to apologise to any Pandit brother if I have the slightest share inscaring him away. But that entails a further honesty of not missing the largerpicture which Kashmiri Muslims and Kashmiri Pandits both are a part of. Setting`us' apart from `them' will not bridge but widen the divide. This demonizationof one community to hype up the victimhood of the other is ethically wrong,emotionally unacceptable, communally divisive and professionally invalid.

You want to pay homage to the dead, add my homage too. Youwant to salute the living, take my salute too. Pain is a song that makes ussing together, a glue that binds us. Don't make it a wall where on one side youhave criminals called us and on the other victims called you.

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