At one point, while responding to a question after the film, Sanjay Kak had the courage to say that ‘Kashmir is an ambiguous place’. The film tells its Indian audience one important thing: Let’s at least be certain about one fact, and that is, things are uncertain. The film is not a crusade; there is no agenda. It is not attempting to impose meaning on what does not lend itself to such imposition.
The film is about unsettling the received wisdom. Multi-layered, polyphonic, criss-crossing narratives are woven eclectically, and pulled together by the theme “Azadi”. And Azadi can mean anything. It can mean a woman seeking revenge of her husband’s murder; a child’s innocent slogan which finds a rapturous response from the crowd; the last failing words of a dying college-going boy brutalised by soldiers; a veteran’s prayer to “Ishwar, Allah, Baghwan” asking metaphysical powers in his sigh so that it can take on any powerful military. It can also mean a disappointed poet’s dream of a glorious return to his home; or another poet’s desire to end the frenzy that has blurred his vision. It means Independence.
Frames merge; so do the different aspirations and dreams. Azadi comes alive in the tearful eyes of a mother seeking blessings at a Sufi shrine; the playful Baands bringing a rare smile to long-stricken faces; or a commuter asked to stop for identity check, who throws his Identity papers down casually; thousands of people shouting in unison: “We want? Freedom”. A freedom staring down the barrel of the enemy’s gun.
We discover a uniformed criminality which, in common parlance passes of as the security forces. Convoys of army vehicles, loaded to the brim with always-restless always-on-the-move alien soldiers fighting a war against no one. A war with no end; therefore, a war to the end.
The stifled vision of Kashmiris. Behind barbed wires we get glimpses of the distraught faces of children, who do not quite understand if all Army wanted to give them was a vocational training why were they orphaned. We see young boys forced to strip and then slapped across their faces. Stories of rapine and arson narrated by sufferers with a limited vocabulary that do not quite represent the horridness of the actual experiences.
An irony. Jashn-e-Azadi. How We Celebrate Freedom. A place where the last traces of freedom have been crushed underfoot by an arrogant occupier, how do people celebrate freedom? Jashn-e-Azadi! How We Celebrate Freedom? Muted Kashmiris handed radios by a bearded soldier. (Apparently, a Muslim.) ‘Listen to what is happening in the world’. Speak not. Treacherous occupier. A glib psychologist counsels an elite audience out of the ‘Resistance to the Occupation Syndrome’. Yet, another psychologist helps poor people rebuild their lives; lives eaten away by the Post-Trauma Stress Disorder. The Baands, too, bless their oppressive rulers in the end. What frenzy is this!
The film-maker has people blaming him in Delhi for not talking about the plight of Pandits in detail. In Srinagar, he will have people accusing him for not depicting the miseries of Kashmiri Muslims enough. But the film, unlike the old man, in Kupwara, whose fate it is to keep counting the dead in the war, is not about numbers. It is about alternative, if broken, stories; stories of people on the street and in the fields. It is about a resistance, lived. It is about uncomfortable memories that come in the way of the occupier’s history.
Jashn-e-Azadi is not the conclusive account, but it opens a thousand and one different ways of looking at Kashmir. Cheers!