There is this particular emotional irony about Kashmir — a land caught between recurring unrests and breathtaking beauty. Its snowy expanse, crystal clear lakes, pristine streams and stunning landscapes are always mentioned in the same breath as gunshots, stone-pelting, pepper gas and violence. Amidst all these, there is a fire within the hearts of the people — the fire born out of strong emotions. One might perceive that those emotions get translated to protests and violence, but not always.
Independent filmmakers Fazil N.C. and Shawn Sebastian from Kerala, shot a different side of Kashmiri youth through their musical documentary In the Shade of Fallen Chinar. This was a month before Burhan Wani, commander of the Azad Kashmir-based Hizbul Mujahideen, was killed and the ongoing unrest in Srinagar began.
“We always get a negative picture about Kashmir, stone-pelting youth and stuff. But there is a different side which the youth are exposed to. Many are ardent artists even though there are no active platforms; they developed their own space for creative expressions. Then I saw this platform where they were working for personal healing. This is how they are amidst all turmoil,” says Fazil.
The duo met for the Masters programme in Hyderabad University.
They had their first breakthrough when the short film they directed got a UN award. Fazil and Shawn admit that their love for travelling united them to handle the deep subject.
In the Shade of Fallen Chinar throws light on the lives of a group of young artists who are students of Kashmir University. The movie is neither about militants nor rights activists but a generation of youth that has seen the worst of the unrest. “What I am trying to narrate is every Kashmiri’s predicament,” a rap song featured in the video ends like that.
The film features the Kashmiri artists Syed Shahriyar for his photojournalism, Saba Nazki, Ovais Ahmad, Mu’Azzam Bhat for his music, Ali Saffudin, Khytul Abyad for her graphic arts, Tabiah Qari, with anecdotes of their art, opinions and hopes, under the shade of the valley of chinar trees. That’s where powerful statements and artistic calibre takes the voice of the youngsters. These artists, who gather near a fallen Chinar tree on the Kashmir university campus to share their ideas, talk about what art means to them in a conflict-ridden society, factors that inspire their art and what they think about the role of art in the fight for justice.
“It is such an irony that it is stuck between the international borders and geo-political situations and the beautiful nature,” says Shawn. “An artist cannot live without a sense of history. It is the events of the past and the surroundings one lives, that inspire an artist to communicate his ideas to the world. In the film, we focused on a few artists who grew up in the 1990s when the conflict was at its zenith. Hence their body work had all reflections of the pain and grief that they have been witnessing since their childhood,” he adds.
The burqa-clad girls in the documentary voice their feelings in such vibrant and rebellious voices with full conviction. “I couldn’t use the footage of many women because their rage would have caused them trouble. But their creativity answers it all,” says Fazil.
At this art hub of Kashmir University is a fallen Chinar tree, which the students have transformed into an installation of their raging voices. As said in the documentary, “Conflict is the perfect place for art to thrive.”
Then there is the meeting of Mizrab, the students’ tabloid where they sketch, write and share their decades of pain, hope, anger, protest and sorrow. Its editor Saba Nazki speaks in the video, “If they are not allowing us to have a physical union, why not have a written space that will help us draw our grievances and ideas about the conflict and the campus.”
Despite its peaceful story, the documentary ends with this notification: ‘The peaceful ending of the film might appear to be the misrepresentation of the ongoing unrest.’ After Burhan Wani was killed, the duo tried to contact those featured in the film, but in vain....