Amid encounters and protests, two cultural events bring a silver lining to Kashmir Valley

For a city that does not have any theatres or cultural platforms for film exhibition, a film festival is a huge step forward

“There aren’t as many tourists as there used to be, madam,” Bashir bhai tells me. The Dal is drenched in a sunset hue as Bashir bhai begins to tell me about the golden days in the 70s. Nostalgia is the balm for the tattered soul.

Last month, amidst the chaos of the BJP-PDP break-up and clashes between protesters and security forces, life in Srinagar saw glimmers of hope in the Kashmir World Film Festival, and Concourse, an arts exhibition.

Catching the latest release in cinemas is a casual weekend routine for most of us. In Srinagar, merely having a platform to view films becomes a statement in itself. And for a city that does not have any theatres or cultural platforms for film exhibition, a film festival is a huge step forward. The third edition of the week-long Kashmir World Film Festival, which concluded on June 25, saw 47 films in 19 different languages.

Sense of home

My bigger takeaway from the film festival was the audience — ordinary people of Srinagar, young students from colleges in and around Srinagar. Watching the films with this very politically sensitive audience was a window into their aspirations. For every scene with a resilient Kashmiri talking about their suffering and hope, the audience would erupt into applause.

It is perhaps this empathy that brought together 60 Kashmiri Pandit and Muslim artists from all over the world for Concourse. Curated by artists Syed Mujtaba Rizvi and Veer Munshi, the exhibition was held in a crumbling, 100-year-old, erstwhile silk factory. Interestingly, this very same factory was one of the birthplaces of the 1931 Kashmiri uprising against the then Maharajah. Eighty-seven years later, the same space raises its voice again — to talk about the sense of home, loss, memory and oppression, and the coming together of all those who suffered.

Poet Zareef Ahmed Zareef

Poet Zareef Ahmed Zareef
 
| Photo Credit:
Svetlana Naudiyal

“It is indeed amazing, conceptually speaking, how the history, architecture and memory of a particular space becomes a part of the exhibition; it is indeed rare,” says Rizvi. However, the core idea, he stresses, is to explore this confluence of artists. “The exhibition is about the possibilities of coming together, moving forward.” It was because of this exhibition that Kashmiri Pandit artist Ratan Parimoo returned to the Valley after 41 years, Rizvi says.

On my fifth day in Srinagar, there is an ‘encounter’ in Nowshera-Khiram, about 70 km from Srinagar. But life goes on as usual in the capital. The greatest inconvenience we face is the Internet blackout that day.

Kashmiri poet and satirist, Zareef Ahmad Zareef, now in his mid-70s, is concerned about the uncertainty of life in the Valley. He believes that such art and culture-related platforms are crucial to a wholesome life. And then in the same breath, gently reminds me about the fear they live with and a certain meaninglessness to everything in the absence of peace. But Mushtaaque Ali, festival director, Kashmir World Film Festival, is hopeful about creating room for the culture of cinema in the city. “We want this festival to be a permanent fixture. We want to do screenings, workshops, and events like these all through the year.” he says.

Land of death

Death was a running theme at Concourse. The entrance to the exhibition had a 30-foot-long painting by Mamoon Ahmad that calls itself a political critique of mass graves around the world. He calls his painting ‘Ruwaida’ — an Urdu word meaning ‘walk gently’, because he wants us to walk gently, look, and feel the burden of what we see in his homeland.

What is this land where death and home go hand-in-hand? I wonder if one should call it home or just a vague sense of home. Can art be an answer or even an attempt at righting this wrong? Ruman Hamdani, a young filmmaker-photographer from Srinagar, says, “Art, film and such platforms are very important for a place like Kashmir. It encourages us to tell our stories, to use film as a tool to preserve our culture, heritage and history.”

On my last day there, I ask Bashir bhai if he would like to see some films at the next edition of the film festival. He says no with a firm shake of his head. And then, after a pause, “I hope my children do.”

A film festival fiend who lavishly uses the term ‘vagabond’ to cover up her instability. Instagram @wanderwomaniyaa

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