July 5, 2013 : Even Srinagar’s most diehard fans will admit that July is a steamy month in the city, more so when its 2.30 in the afternoon of a searing hot day, you have 250 people in an enclosed room for several hours, with all the windows shut to block out light, and just three fans: the situation can get pretty unbearable. So firstly a very felt salam to all those who sat through the Red Ant Dream screening in the conference room of the Lala Rukh Hotel. Especially to those in the last third of the room, who could hardly read the sub-titles as well!

Srinagar audience

Srinagar audience

[The last time we screened a film in Srinagar was more than six years ago, with Jashn-e-Azadi. The weather was more balmy in March 2007, more like the Kashmir we know and like, but inside the Tagore Hall the temperature that afternoon was incendiary. It was not just the slogans that young men raised from the back of the hall, shaking the creaking rafters of that ageing auditorium. It was also the cathartic charge that surged through the hall, and eventually the tears that followed. I think we'll never know what ran through the minds of that audience, but just to be there was a personal landmark, the most emotionally wrenching screening that I have ever experienced.]

Its difficult to believe how hard it is to create something like a public space in a place like Srinagar. When fear and surveillance are applied like a tourniquet around the veins of the city, and the simple business of screening a film begins to feel like defiance, an act verging on the insurgent.

Srinagar Q&A

Srinagar Q&A

So it is with something approaching delight that we can report an audience that was varied, with the old guard of civil society in the city balanced with many of its more radical young people, and a reassuring turn-out of women as well. The screening was followed by a very considered commentary on the film by Abir Bazaz, Kashmiri film-maker and academic. Abir read the film, and its account of the varying struggles that it depicts, against the landscape of Kashmir, and its present. This rather deft reading provided a very substantial context in which the floor was thrown open to the audience.

Khurram Parvez I Abir Bazaz I Sanjay Kak

Khurram Parvez, Abir Bazaz, Sanjay Kak

That many in that hall managed to survive the ‘pressure cooker’ conditions of the Lala Rukh Hotel is a tribute to their tenacity, but the question and answer session was vigorous. I was personally astounded by the fact that people were making observations about the text in the subtitles while sitting so far back that one would have assumed that they couldnt even read them! An important thread in the comments, brought to the fore by some young men, was the complex (and sometimes difficult to understand) distinction they sought to make between the struggles of the people of central and eastern India, which they saw as rooted in the ‘here and now’, and the material, with their own struggle – which they saw as inspired by the considerations of the ‘hereafter’.

Screening

Screening

July 7, 2013 / Shopian : The extremely hard work of creating a civil society in a situation of enduring conflict is nowhere more clear than in Shopian, where the shocking rape and murder of two young women in 2009, literally forced its citizens to come together and engage in that elusive fight for justice. (No one in Kashmir is likely to forget the brutal end that Asiya and Niloufer met, not for a very long time, or the incredible endurance displayed in the 47 day protest shut-down by the people of Shopian town that summer of 2009.)

I would therefore read the invitation to screen Red Ant Dream as part of this assertion by the people of Shopian. The gathering was not very large, but every seat in the conference hall was taken, and to have an extremely engaged audience – including a decent proportion of women, most of them young – in a town racked so recently by so much grief and trouble was a real gift. The discussion afterwards was moderated by Habeel Iqbal, a young lawyer, and the ground covered was quite remarkable. People saw significance in the use of culture in resistance politics depicted in the film; they tried to co-relate what was happening in central and eastern India with the real dangers of ecological annhilation that new economic imperatives are certainly carrying to Kashmir; and most of all, a conversation was begun about what could possibly be common amongst people who resist.

[The screening was also visited briefly by some fairly senior police officials, who were puzzled about the 'reasons' why such a film was being shown in Kashmir. But eventually they left, perhaps because they believed in the right to free-speech and the right to hold an independent discourse; or perhaps because they believe that Odisha, Chattisgarh (and even Punjab) are still very far from Shopian.]