No Fathers in Kashmir was made for theatres, says director Ashvin Kumar on film's struggle with censorship

Udita Jhunjhunwala

Apr 02, 2019 15:57:41 IST

Resilience and a dogged belief in his work has kept filmmaker Ashvin Kumar going, not just over the last nine months when his latest film, No Fathers in Kashmir, has been jousting with the various departments of the Censor Board, but through most of his movie-making career.

No stranger to controversy or conflict, Kumar’s documentary films such as Inshallah Football (2010) and Inshallah Kashmir (2012), have run the obstacle course of attempted institutional interference. Ironically, both those films went on to win National Awards for Kumar, whose short film Little Terrorist received an Oscar nomination in 2005.

It’s no wonder then, when asked why he didn’t bypass censorship and insisted on releasing his teenage love story in theatres, that Kumar replies, “We need to examine why this question is even being asked. This question comes up because there is censorship. When we talk about bypassing the system and releasing on the internet, we are not subverting the censors; we are just cutting out an entire audience,” says the 45 year old multi-hyphenated Kumar. Not only has he written, directed and produced No Fathers in Kashmir, he also plays a critical character in the drama.

 No Fathers in Kashmir was made for theatres, says director Ashvin Kumar on films struggle with censorship

Ashvin Kumar with the lead actors of No Fathers in Kashmir.

“This film was made for theatres. It is my continuing attempt to challenge the system. Movies don't cause fear but the lack of sensitivity, compassion and information is problematic. Multiple times I have called Kashmir a crisis of compassion, far more than a crisis of politics or crisis of social issues,” he adds.

This latest feature film follows the story of Noor and Majid, two teenagers from Kashmir bound by the same vulnerability – a “disappeared father”. While on the one hand a young love blossoms between them when Noor is visiting her grandparents, on another, the children embark on a mission to track down their respective missing fathers. Kumar acknowledges that details, information and symbols abound in the storytelling.

“I have made two documentaries set in Kashmir and have hundreds of hours of footage. I have travelled extensively all over the valley and amassed research over 10 years. That’s where the understanding of what actually happens comes from, but also from a genuine love for the people and their situation. The other things are ‘what-if’ situations, for example what is the relationship between a mother-in-law and daughter-in-law like if such a thing happens? That was based on imagination and an understanding of human emotions.”

Unlike in non-fiction films, features require the filmmaker to work with symbols and metaphors. One such is showing Majid’s mother as a weaver. “In Kashmir weaving is a man's profession. However, since her husband has been plucked out of the equation, she has had to takeover and this leads to compromises that she must make,” explains Kumar, adding, “But the main story is about these two kids. The more you get invested in the their story, the more heartbreaking it is to understand what it is going on. That was my communication. My grandfather, on my mother’s side, is Kashmiri and we used to go to Kashmir every summer. It was a place of my childhood, of tenderness, family, nature and walks. The first time I held a girl's hand was at age 14 in Gulmarg. In that sense Majid and Noor’s relationship is autobiographical.”

Two decades later, Kumar returned to Kashmir and the result was Inshallah Kashmir and Inshallah Football, which he describes as “angry, hard, activist films”. “For me Kashmir exists in two realities — one is the teenage reality and the other is a more middle-aged reality.”

There was a time when Kashmir was the setting for romantic songs and movies. Over time the narratives began focussing on conflict. More recently Raazi, Uri and Hamid have represented the state’s ongoing political conundrum. Kumar doesn’t entirely agree though. He says, “I don't know if Uri and Raazi really represent Kashmir. I think they gloss over a lot of the realities that are unpalatable. They point out realities that are permissible. But films like Haider, Hamid and No Fathers in Kashmir stand apart and we need many more such narratives which hone in on the truth and make people curious.”

Ask Kumar what he means by that and he says, “The solution is Google. People need to get out and ask why haven't we been told this? Curiosity is the solution. Right now there is apathy, if not outright hostility, so moving the scales from hostility to curiosity, that is the conceit of the film, and in that is the hope. No Fathers in Kashmir is optimistic and hopeful, but it’s impossible to be hopeful without first telling ourselves the truth and staring these things in the face.”

After three films set in the Valley, Kumar says he is now ready to focus on acting. “I always envisioned myself going back to acting. It's been 20 years since I have been on the stage. And I hadn't bought a ticket to do any of this, to be honest. I just wanted to act. I don't know how I got stuck [with] writing, directing and producing. When I wrote Arshid I thought this is a crazy character and I really want to play this guy. Now I am working on a screenplay with a first time director who has kindly cast me as a lead. It’s a story about unrequited love and has nothing to do with politics, for a change.”

No Fathers in Kashmir, starring Zara Webb, Shivam Raina, Soni Razdan, Kulbhushan Kharbanda, Anshuman Jha and Kumar, releases on 5 April.

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Updated Date: Apr 02, 2019 15:57:41 IST