Mumbai : Sanjay Kak, whose documentary on Kashmir, “Jashn-e-Azaadi”, was not allowed to be screened at the Symbiosis festival in Pune, is unperturbed and says the film has got its audience, thanks to the digital media.
Excerpts from the interview:
Q: The scheduled screening of your film “Jashn-e-Azadi” at Pune was cancelled, reportedly at the behest of the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP). What was your initial reaction?
A: I’m obviously dismayed that students will not get to watch the film and discuss the reality around Kashmir. But the film has been around for five years already and it has found its own audience, and will hopefully continue to do so…Of course, this incident only confirms what the film started off by trying to do, which is to break the horrible silence about Kashmir.
As you may know, the entire Pune seminar now stands postponed. So it’s not just this film, but any real conversation about Kashmir that is seen as a threat by some people.
Q: Apparently the ABVP thinks your film wrongly shows the Indian army committing atrocities in the valley?
A: That opinion can only be held by someone who has not seen the film. I wish you had seen the film – you would have found that question quite unnecessary!
Q: For people outside Kashmir, what would you say about the quality of life being lived by civilians in Kashmir?
A: What can you expect of the quality of life in the most militarised zone in the world? So at its best, civilians would feel they are living in a cantonment. It may be a well regulated, relatively peaceful cantonment, but that doesn’t change the fact that someone with a gun calls the shots.
You know the story of everyday brutalization, the disappearances and deaths, the fear and mistrust, all of which are the natural byproducts of such tremendous militarization.
Q: Significantly you bypassed the censor board for the Pune screening. How closely did you examine the legality of the issue before taking this rather radical decision?
A: Nothing radical here, I’m afraid. To show a film in a seminar, to an invited audience, inside its own premises, is within the rights of an educational institution. Just as it is to show it at a film festival. These are private screenings.
Q: Your film was stopped by another form of moral and political policing. Do you see any humour in this situation?
A: Very little humour, I’m afraid. But I also know that having a censor certificate has never been a hindrance to stopping a film screening. All it needs is a bunch of thugs willing to damage property, and the screenings are over. Remember when “Fanaa” was released in Gujarat, and then blocked? The only good thing is that much of digital technology is wired to flow across barriers, and so is anti-censorship by default. DVDs are copied effortlessly, films are passed around on pen drives, there is the internet…. And young people are curious.
Q: Your art is no stranger to censorship, official and/or extra-constitutional. What are your views on censorship?
A: I’ve been part of the campaign against censorship. We had a credo of sorts there. Free speech, yes, but equally, fearless listening. That’s what we need to cultivate, an ability to listen to points of view, even those that outrage and enrage you. So of course, I’m opposed to the whole business of the film censor. What I find really troubling is that the role of the state seems always to accede to the bully, never to the ones who are being threatened.
Q: Documentaries, by their very nature, limit their audience. How do you hope to take “Jashn-e-Hind” to a wide viewership?
A: I think you’re out of touch with documentaries…There is a very vibrant documentary screening culture in India today, which distinguishes it from documentary practice in many parts of the world, and which sustains a very large and growing community of filmmakers. Yes, it’s not a commercially lucrative circuit, and it’s not a threat to Bollywood, but I don’t think that’s where most of my fellow filmmakers have centered their ambitions either.
Q: Another filmmaker Ashvin Kumar has put his documentary on Kashmir – “Inshallah Kashmir: Living Terrorism” – straightaway on the internet. Do you see that as a viable solution to the problem of censorship? Would you adopt that mode?
A: “Jashn-e-Azadi” is also on the net, on Snag. And ever since the controversy broke, the hits are growing astronomically. More people are watching the film now than would have been possible with 200 people in a college auditorium.