Listen to this article:
New Delhi: There is no point in happy endings just for the sake of them, documentary filmmaker Sandeep Ravindranath believes. And this belief comes out starkly in his latest short on Kashmir, which also serves as a music video for a Tamil protest rock song.
“The only line presenting hope is the one that comes in the bridge sections of the song [‘…pray in one voice for a day that is free fair’]. Not just Kashmir, the situation all over India is such at the moment, that hope is all we have,” Ravindranath told The Wire.
‘Anthem for Kashmir’ – a nine-minute short film accompanied by a Tamil song – was released on Thursday (May 12) by award-winning documentary filmmaker Anand Patwardhan and Carnatic singer T.M. Krishna. The short, fictionalised narrative highlights the issues of enforced disappearances and fake encounters in Kashmir, and the impact they have on those left behind or witnessing the everyday violence.
Ravindranath, who previously worked as a live-sound engineer, has made several shorts in the past, including Tharattu Pattu, The Bookshelf, Santhana Gopala, Diary of an Outsider and Sub Brothers.
The idea for this project, according to Ravindranath, has been in the works for a while now – ever since Article 370 was read down in August 2019. “I have friends in Kashmir; they had a whole period of shutdown when there was no way of reaching them. I think it grew organically from then; we had all these images we were seeing at the time, on platforms like The Wire, barbed wire, pellet gun victims, funerals – all these images. So it grew from there.”
The song came first, with lyrics by Syed Ali and Abi Abbas and music by Ravindranath and Sudeip Ghosh. The lyrics are in a language that isn’t spoken in Kashmir – Tamil. But there is something about the language, Ravindranath believes, that lends itself to protest rock music: “the short words, the incredible power. So we made a conscious decision that it should be Tamil.”
The video was shot amid COVID-19 restrictions, but local support in the town they were in, near the Line of Control, made it possible, Ravindranath said.
The aim, and the motivation, was to also try and portray the truth of today’s Kashmir. With the popularity of movies like The Kashmir Files, which have been widely criticised for trying to villainise Valley Muslims, the filmmaker wanted to bring out the everyday violence and troubles often glossed over in both mainstream media and popular culture – “civilian deaths, enforcement disappearances, fake encounters, half-widows”.
“When you’re there [in Kashmir], you really get the sense that this is occupied territory. There are army personnel with machine guns every 100 metres, armoured vehicles with gun ports, check posts. The visuals cater towards establishing a psychology of fear and anxiety,” Ravindranath continued.
“It doesn’t feel like anywhere else in India. I have travelled to many, many parts of India; never have I seen that psychology of fear. But there, it’s palpable. I was only there for a month; I was just imagining what happens to people who are there for years and years.”
The short also references art from other parts of the world. One shot, for instance, zooms in on graffiti that at first glance looks like Banksy’s Syrian girl with the balloon – except that here, the girl also has an eye patch, to remind viewers of the many pellet victims in the Valley, including children, who have lost their eyesight because of this so-called “non-lethal” weapon.
The chorus of the song feels much like the short itself – a scream, with just one word repeating: ‘Kashmir’. The very last scene of the video is of the protagonist looking out through a barred window: a suggestion that the Valley as a whole is functioning like a prison. As Ravindranath puts it, “It does end with despair, but those are the facts.”