Life in a cold state
Prabhash Chandra discusses how he used poetry to convey the complexities of Kashmir. ’s perspective of take on the trauma of the common Kashmiris
Prabhash Chandra discusses how he used poetry to convey the complexities of Kashmir.
A poetic yet probing take on Kashmir, Prabhash Chandra’s film I’m not the river Jhelum is a moving experience that captures the everyday trauma in the Valley before and after the abrogation of the contentious Section 370.
A student of Physics, the independent filmmaker has delved into the gravity of the situation by using the verses of Jagan Nath Azad, Inder Salim and Angel Gonzalez and has employed his experience in theatre to create lyrical but mind-numbing imagery.
Director Prabhash Chandra
| Photo Credit: Special Arrangement
The film fetched the KR Mohanan Award for best debut director from India at the 26 th International Film Festival of India, earlier this year.
A still from the film I am not river Jhelum
| Photo Credit: Special Arrangement
How did you arrive at the idea?
I have been visiting Kashmir for sometime now. During the course of my stay, I got an opportunity to engage with the community. I taught theatre in school and colleges there and interacted with many people. I started listening to their viewpoints and kept observing the events happening around me. One thing is very clear: life there is filled with uncertainty and violence. The worst sufferers in this situation are children and women. Personally, I don’t appreciate it when the State requires the use of discipline and death as techniques of social control.
However, when I used to come back to Delhi, there was a completely different narrative, where Kashmiri Muslims were portrayed as anti-national elements. There is a huge gap in the perception and the ground reality of Kashmir.
How did Jhelum become a metaphor for what young Afeefa sees and experiences?
Afeefa’s traumatic memories of childhood when her uncle just disappeared one day, the methodical and planned killing and violence in her community, her close ones becoming a victim in front of her eyes – all of this numbed her. In the same way, the river Jhelum is witness to perpetual violence. It has seen a lot of brutality and death. Nature (Jhelum) sees and accepts a lot in its folds over a period, like her.
Why did you employ poetry and elements of theatre to depict torture and protest?
I didn’t want to build a plot structure based on given characters, rather I was interested in capturing different time periods, but not in a linear way. I feel poetic images have the intrinsic characteristic to widen the possibility of looking at an image. The poems helped me penetratethe deeper meaning of the complex world of Kashmir. During the shooting, I always looked for the inner state of the characters. I shot the scenes of protest in a measured way to be in sync with the poetic elements. I have fused the elements of theatre into the cinematic space in a way that does justice to the poetic expression that is deep and metaphorical.
E xplain the powerful opening and the poignant closing scene.
When I was in the Valley, I saw a few mass graveyards, many of them unmarked. People there don’t know whether their loved ones are buried in these graves or not. They don’t know where to mourn, they are still searching. I saw one old man looking at the graves; that moment stuck with me.
The last scene (a helicopter shot that looks at the Valley through a stream of white clouds) is about the hope that one day there’ll be peace and love in the Valley.
What challenges did you face while shooting in the Valley?
Accessing the space/location has been challenging, as Kashmir was under curfew and surveillance for a long time. Once the fundamental work was done, my challenge was to achieve the best out of the material with the bare minimum resources that we had. Arranging the resources and finances was a challenge for me at every phase of the film. I kept asking for favours from friends and colleagues who contributed in whatever way they could. I am still in huge financial debt. I’m paying monthly EMIs.
Some might say that the film becomes as one-sided as The Kashmir Files in its thought…
I don’t think so. It is my take on the kind of violence and trauma that people have faced over a period of time, irrespective of religion.
How will you take it to the people?
I want to release my film, show it on big screens across theatres in India and abroad. But again, I have no control over that, because of the mainstream structure. The idea of censorship the present regime believes in is really very difficult to deal with. In our country film distribution is in the hands of a few people. This is one of the biggest challenges that an independent filmmaker faces.