In the Shade of Fallen Chinar filmmakers on the people of Kashmir: 'They always bounce back'

Neerja Deodhar

Jun,17 2017 10:00 49 IST

Editor's note: The Kerala High Court on Friday, 16 June 2017, dismissed a petition by Shawn Sebastian, one of the directors of In The Shade of Fallen Chinar, against the I&B ministry's decision to withold screening permission for the film (along with two other documentaries) at the 10th International Documentary and Short Film Festival.

"Conflict is the perfect place for art to thrive. Art for the heck of art is one thing; art for personal healing, for that sake is something else. We Kashmiris have that kind of art."

When Fazil NC and Shawn Sebastian made In the Shade of Fallen Chinar, they did not imagine that they would ever be stopped from screening the film. To the dismay of these two documentary filmmakers, as well as many cinema enthusiasts, their 16-minute-long film was denied permission to be screened, along with two other entries submitted to the International Documentary and Short Film festival which is being held in Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala, from 16 June 2017.

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Still from In The Shade Of The Fallen Chinar. YouTube screengrab

In the Shade of Fallen Chinar gives a glimpse into the lives and states of mind of young Kashmiri artists, the expression of their views, their discussions about the state they live in, and dissent. When Fazil visited Kashmir, he did not go there with the intention of shooting a film; he was just re-connecting with old friends he first met at the 2014 Kochi Biennale.

Eventually, he began attending book launches and tabloid newspaper meetings with them, where he came across more Kashmiri youngsters with a similar bent of mind. "Ninety percent of the footage of the film is a record of my time spent with them. It was later that we did interviews and developed a narrative that was finally edited... We didn’t consider it our film; it was a recorded memory — a sign that we went there," says Fazil. 

That being said, the film has a definitive purpose. Fazil says that despite the Valley being a conflict zone, the people there live life to the fullest. They're yearning for normalcy, peace and dignity. "They always bounce back, you know? Even if you go to Kashmir six or eight months after the curfew, you’d imagine that people would be distressed or sad, but it’s the opposite. I always wanted to tell this side of the story, I wanted to capture this energy and resistance," he says.

The director duo set out to give life to this alternative narrative of Kashmir, and were motivated to tell this story because it involved art and music. Shawn clarifies that they do not claim to represent the views of all the young people of Kashmir, but that there exists a section of the youth which advocates peace.

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Still from In The Shade Of The Fallen Chinar. Youtube screengrab

Politics has permeated everything in the Valley, and art is no exception to this, unsurprisingly. "We avoided it because we knew that it would come with baggage. There are already a lot of political overtones to everything related to Kashmir. You can’t ignore the fact that it seeped into the film anyway," says Fazil.

Art plays an integral role in the lives of these college students, who grew up in the '90s, bearing witness to curfews, occupation, militancy and violence since their childhood. Shawn says that apart from the socio-political function of art, it allows Kashmiris to mentally heal on a personal level. This is what motivates musicians like the ones featured in the film to continue striving for their art, despite having little exposure or opportunities to record their songs. Fazil is of the opinion that there is a "tinge of art" in the very air of the Valley, and it makes its presence felt in everyday life, whether it is in their carpets or their clothes — a fact often left out of mainstream narratives.

The duo was very careful about not allowing their own opinions and biases about the subject to influence the film, and were always firm about telling the story as is. "While making the film we were careful to not let our opinions guide the narrative. We shot it like a journalist would approach any subject," Shawn says.

Their perceptions about Kashmir also changed, with the passage of time. They realised that things are not always as they are portrayed in the mainstream. Having grown up in Kerala, Shawn admits that his notion of the Valley was dominated by violence, the army, and the nationalism debate. In the Shade of Fallen Chinar exposed him to the traditions of and influences on the Kashmiris. "We saw a lot of fire in these youngsters. They’re very dedicated to their interests. They have strong convictions about what they do; they don’t just do it for joy," he adds. He said that observing this reinforced to him his role as a filmmaker.

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In The Shade Of The Fallen Chinar. Youtube screengrab

The filmmakers assert that the students they met are very genuine, and their beliefs are concrete. "When a girl throws stones, it is not because of anarchy; you can’t dismiss her actions as a consequence of brainwashing. There is a reason for this aggression. That act is not a mere act; that act stems from a long history which they have lived. That makes people fearless; they don’t walk with their heads low," said Fazil, speaking about stone pelting in the state.

They did not face many challenges during the 25-day long shoot, except one that they say any filmmaker from mainland India goes through — earning the trust and confidence of the locals.  Shawn says that his favourite part of the experience of making this film is the titular fallen chinar itself. This tree was located near the fine arts department of the University and served as a breathing space for artists, where they could meet and discuss politics. "It gave us a lot of insight into what they really wanted to say," he explains. For Fazil, the aspects that will always stay with him are the Valley itself, the connection he feels to Kashmir, and the friends he made there.

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Still from In The Shade Of The Fallen Chinar. Youtube screengrab

Months after the film was made and released, Burhan Wani was killed and a curfew was put into place in Kashmir. Despite being in the Valley and getting a taste of the culture, neither Fazil nor Shawn saw any of this coming. Many of the faces featured in their film could not be reached after the Wani encounter. Fazil asserts that this incident is just a trigger, and that a series of events have led up to it. "They are highly sensitive and aware about the things that are happening in India, perhaps more than any other state. The minorities of India feel alienated," says Fazil, but insists that neither the film nor its directors wish to place the blame on any one entity involved.

Fazil says that they put a conscious effort into making sure that the film did not give off the impression of being a "documentary"; they wanted it to be widely watched. Not only has their film been excluded from the list of films the Information and Broadcasting Ministry gave censor exemptions to, but also no explanation has been offered (as to why it was withheld). This is why they filed a writ petition and are now awaiting a response. Until then, they say that they are overwhelmed with the response and support the film has received. Independent groups are willing to screen it, so that more people are exposed to its message. "It’s like an anti-Fascist rhetoric has begun. I don’t want to reduce it to anti-Fascism though; I’m looking at a larger discussion on nationalism," says Fazil.

Watch In the Shade of Fallen Chinar here: