I watched the compelling documentary Jashn-e-Azadi [How We Celebrate Freedom] at the Osian Cine festival in New Delhi. The film is a powerful narrative about the last 18 years of Kashmir’s low intensity conflict – a glade of earth where the Indian elite once used to honeymoon en masse. With his intrepid style, Sanjay Kak seems to have stepped onto an uncomfortable territory. I think the film's chutzpah sets it apart. It subtly dissects the desolation and travails of a struggle, which is construed as sacred and star-crossed at the same time.
On a much personal level I could almost immediately identify with poignancy of the effort. Being a Kashmiri, it felt like an emotive roller coaster. The images came rushing back to me as I saw horrors -- known and unknown -- unfold on the screen, sitting alongside an elite audience at Delhi’s Siri Fort. It is kinda tough but there has been an emotional bitterness about this war era – which a non-Kashmiri may find hard to fathom. I don’t know what went wrong and where but that is precisely what the film is trying to convey. Sanjay has stitched related narratives and crocheted them together by the theme -- Azadi or Freedom.
The elusive Azadi! I have been in Kashmir during those difficult militancy years. I vividly recount the dreary nights. The gunshots. The screams. It was a pain with no end. Of watching parents with hapless eyes. Their children being dragged out of homes and killed in cold blood. The persecution. The wickedness of it all. And the quitetude. Jashn-e-Azadi rips open these closeted taboos. It attempts to zoom in on tears that routinely get consigned to dust of the dell. It follows the steps of a father, who visits the Martyr’s graveyard in Srinagar – only to forget his son’s grave.
Kak’s oeuvre is varicolored. His ritornelle leaves you touched. He is effortless in his coalescing of numerous fragments of the war in Kashmir – psychological scars, bruised souls, a poet's lament, the clowns’ hamming, dissident's spiel and the army's truculence. Sanjay talks to the miscellaneous Kashmiri. It must be hard being a sister and losing a brother in the bloody conflict and telling a film crew about how he died after all those years. In her limited vocabulary. Trying to seek a shy solace after years of anguish.
The film gives you no breather. The motif flickers swiftly. An old man tallying those killed in his village explains the sombre truth of Emperor Jehangir's Firdaus. A tourist’s cheer in the meadows of Gulmarg only adds to the idiom. As the poet Zarif croons in one of the film’s many frames:
I’ve lost the city of love I’d found,
What frenzy is this
My gaze has been silenced
What frenzy is this?
Jashn-e-Azadi is coming of age of independent documentary film making in India. Sanjay Kak is so much more real than the jingoistic crap that India's free media passes for. He showcases the innocence that incidentally got stolen in a little paradise, once wintry night in 1989.
And is still missing!
July 2007, New Delhi