Whenever filmmaker Ashvin Kumar touches his favourite subject Kashmir, the odds are automatically decked against him. Be it script, shooting, or getting the movie passed from the Central Board of Film Certification's (CBFC), everything becomes a challenge. Yet Ashvin has never shied from becoming an unlikely story teller of Kashmir.
The director of pathbreaking documentaries "Inshallah, Football" and "Inshallah, Kashmir" is ready with yet another work that has rattled the Censor Board. His latest movie "No Fathers in Kashmir" has received an 'A' certificate from CBFC and the battle has just begun.
"I don't know what are they afraid of. There is no violence, sex, violence, vulgarity, profanity, nudity or drug abuse in the movie, yet the CBFC had handed it with A certificate," said Ashvin who was recently on a visit to Kashmir wherein a private screening of the movie was also held.
The anger is palpable in his words as he describes how an A certificate means death by a thousand cuts for a movie. As he details the process adopted by CBFC, not everything seems right. The board took 82 days to certify the movie, although according to Cinematograph Act 1952, the total time limit for certification of a movie is 68 days.
Though many movies with A certification have made their mark, but for a small movie like No Fathers in Kashmir, it effectively seals its fate to reach wider audience and earn some money. "Under current laws, broadcasters cannot air 'A' certificate films on TV. They can only run either 'U/A' or 'U' certificate films," said Ashvin. "So in simple terms an 'A' certificate is as good as banning the film."
Ashwin hopes he may get the reprieve as he cites the example of Pankaj Bhutalia's film on stone pelting in Kashmir, 'The Textures of Loss', in which the facts are almost similar to that of 'No Fathers in Kashmir', the Delhi High Court converted the 'A' rating to 'U'".
Ashvin has been banking on broadcast rights to cover their costs. "Not only would have I covered 50-60 percent of the total revenues from broadcast rights but it would have given huge audience exposure to my film," said Ashvin. "But everything hangs in balance."
His fight with CBFC dates back to his first documentary on Kashmir, when it received A certificate. The second one even stared at a ban. The fight, court battles and protests followed. Both the documentaries won the national award. The situation become peculiar as on one hand A certified documentary cannot be broadcast on TV but on the other hand National Award winning documentary have to be mandatorily telecast on Doordarshan. So which rule should the broadcasters follow. Quite often the one that stifles Kashmir voice gets precedence. "My earlier two documentaries were stored in cans until Netflix came. Though they were successful in making a point but the A certificate restricted their audience reach," said Ashwin. "For the current movie too, I am sitting idle for last about five months as CBFC is taking its time."
Progressing from documentaries to a movie has mirrored the personal progression of his political views particularly about Kashmir. "Actually I came here around a decade back to make this movie. But the situation in Kashmir came as a shock to me. What was told to me by mainstream media in India and what was happening in Kashmir was completely different. I thought why other people don't know about it," said Ashwin revealing the reasons for producing the the two documentaries which he terms as 'Activist films'. "However with issues like A certificate they succeeded in killing my voice."
Feeling that the documentary was not able to do the job, Ashwin returned to his medium of fiction. With a decade of ground level experience in Kashmir, he knew what was happening here and how best it can be revealed to outside work. "I want people of India to understand, empathise and emotionally engage with the situation of the people here," said Ashwin. "The idea is to make people weep, because they are weeping for the characters on the screen. So when they come out they will think is this really what is going on in Kashmir."
Ashwin feels that Kashmiris have been de-humanised and the narrative needs to be changed. "Average Kashmiri vision of India is that of a solider and the solider which is repressive, brutal etc. Similarly average Indian vision of Kashmiri is that of a Jehadi militant and fundamentalist. So you have two opposing views. Whereas my vision of Kashmir is of warm friendly gracious people," said Ashwin.
"So how can I tell the people of India about the reality. I want Indian audience to listen to logical arguments of Kashmiris. But you cant get to that because there is too much noise. So in such a scenario you target heart of the people. Through the heart you can find a gateway through which these political conversations can then happen. Because once you empathise then the talk of politics etc doesn't become us and them then it becomes like let us share experiences, what is your life like and what is my life like."
It was the reason Ashwin took the story of two 16 year old kids as the main plot in the movie. "I am even targeting old people, they have done their bid in last 70 years. I believe any future dialogue will happen from Indian youth, largest population of young people in world. They are sufficiently distanced from partition and hindu-muslim rhetoric. They are grown in post-liberalisation. If we show them a story of young love, two youngsters in romantic way and then you reveal the whole conflict and whatever is happening," said Ashwin. "We can present them a human story with characters that they can relate to."
No Fathers in Kashmir is trying to achieve that objective by engaging with youngsters born in 1990's.
Keeping his cards close to heart the filmmakers declines to give much info about the movie. The IMDB description of the movie reads, "A teenage British Kashmiri, Noor, retraces her roots in search of her father with Majid, a local Kashmiri boy. These playful eyes of love-struck teenagers, in their search, uncover the hidden secrets of the lost fathers of Kashmir."
Revolving around a girl, Ashwin says the film emotionally captures the sacred relationship father and a daughter. The reactions at the small screenings have been overwhelming with Kashmiri audience getting emotional and outsiders wondering, is that happening in Kashmir.
The lead characters are played by a British girl and a boy from Jammu.
The success of No Fathers in Kashmir, depends on Ashwin's success with CBFC and beyond that he is sure to face new challenges too.
On being asked why he wants to tell the truth of a sensitive subject rather than cashing in on it like number of Bollywood movies, Ashwin's says, "we have become a country which doesn't want to hear the truth. We want to hear the cacophony from prime time news channels, which is a sad part. When self correction is not happening, when different institution like court martial is not happening, somebody has come forward and do his bit in telling the truth."
His obsession with Kashmir also sometimes make his family and friends worried for him. "My family is apprehensive. They know I am touching something that can go both ways probably go only one way. They try to advise me but I don't listen," chuckles Ashwin with a degree of worry.
On a serous note Ashwin said a man shouldn't live in a fear that will compromise his principles and truth. "My only fear is that the actions that I have taken shouldn't impact my family. Rest these are all challenges which come up being a independent filmmaker that I am currently handling."
Ashwin's grandfather is from Baramulla that adds to his reasons of being closely involved with the valley.
On his decision to do films other than Kashmir, Ashwin agrees that a break from the serious subject would be welcome, but quickly adds "Satyajit Ray made films only in Bengal. Who knows may be I only make films in Kashmir."