With his latest release, No Fathers in Kashmir (2019), film-maker Ashvin Kumar is back in the limelight with a well-received film, fraught with the usual censorship restrictions that have plagued him since 2009. But, as is evident, Kumar is no stranger to Kashmir.
In 2009, the director went to Kashmir with a film crew to document the life of FIFA accredited coach, Juan Troia and his wife Priscilla, who uprooted themselves from Argentina and settled in Kashmir to set up ISAT (International Sports Academy Trust), a football training academy for young Kashmiri boys. Troia’s firm belief that sports can actually deter the youth from taking up arms is an underlying theme throughout the film, but Kumar stumbles upon other, more intriguing stories while shooting.
While Inshallah, Football (2009) tells us about Basharat, fondly called Basha, an ace football player and son of a Hizbul Mujahideen ex-militant, Bashir Baba, who has trouble getting a passport to travel to Brazil to play, because of his father’s past choices, Inshallah, Kashmir (2012) is a rare, albeit hard-hitting glimpse into the growing violence in Kashmir following the Gawkadal Massacre of January 1990, featuring testimony after testimony of the atrocities committed by the Indian army against innocent Kashmiri’s, by the victims who were mostly at the receiving end of all the carnage.
Inshallah, Football is easier to watch and process as compared to its 2012 successor, but Kumar’s decision to extensively interview ex-militants, trying to find out the reasons for them crossing the border, training under militant groups in the early 90’s and returning home, knowing full well the fate that awaited them, works to his advantage. Kumar makes no attempt to shield the viewers from his own experiences, allowing Basharat’s passport ordeals and the testimonies of the suffering Kashmiri’s to play out in their fullest capacity and the horror to settle in the pit of your stomach, making you sick.
In both films, Ashvin Kumar explores the dichotomy of Bashir Baba’s mind; following the events that transpired in Kashmir after the allegedly rigged elections of 1987, the massacre and the hopelessness of the youth in their failed attempts at achieving ‘democratic freedom’. An interview with Wajahat Habibullah, the former commissioner of Kashmir, reveals the Indian government’s inability to differentiate between the ‘pro-Azadi’ and ‘pro- Pakistan’ elements, which led to the subsequent rise of the military in Kashmir, as well as, pro-Pakistan militancy. Bashir describes in excruciating and graphic detail, his recurring torture by the Army for years after his stint across the border at the interrogation centre, Papa 2. His heart-breaking vulnerability when expressing his fear that Basharat might, one day, choose to take up militancy in Inshallah, Football, is a fear echoed through the valley in Inshallah, Kashmir, not because it’s wrong, but because of the repercussions their children would face at the hands of the Indian army, if caught.
Kumar rarely appears on screen, urging, instead, his characters to seek answers pertaining to their individual predicaments, observing them interview their friends and other victims of the system, allowing them to weave their own narrative in these documentaries. As a viewer, you are privy to Basha’s eagerness to help the ‘many boys’ facing passport rejection by wanting to fight his case at the High Court level and being reprimanded by his father and coach for being a hero; his frequent attempts to live the life of a normal teenager, piercing his ears and flirting with girls; the accounts of the raping of women and pillaging of houses by soldiers and militants alike; the history behind the mass exodus of Kashmiri pandits from the valley; the Wakhloo couples own version of their kidnapping by militants; Juan and Priscila’s struggles to take their team to Brazil and get an Indian visa; face off’s with the Indian Army and a young cricketer who can never play after getting shot in the midst of crossfire.
Replete with horrifying reports, the Inshallah series is a difficult, but extremely necessary watch, whether the films offend your sensibilities or not. Ashvin Kumar has been granted rare, unprecedented access while shooting this film, which can be an informative experience for the viewer. Given an ‘A’ certificate for Inshallah, Football and facing flak during the release of Inshallah, Kashmir, Ashvin Kumar spontaneously released the latter online, sighting it as his right to free speech. Both the films, including his Oscar nominated short film, Little Terrorist (2005) are available on cultureunplugged.com.