Makers of film on Kashmir say denial of screening permission is blessing in disguise

Updated on Nov 20, 2017 12:34 PM IST

Q&A with the directors of “In the Shade of Fallen Chinar”, which was denied permission by the central government to screen at the documentary-film festival in Kerala

HT Image(Facebook Profiles)
HT Image(Facebook Profiles)
Hindustan Times, Srinagar | By

A 16-minute-long documentary film on Kashmir made by two filmmakers from Kerala has invited the wrath of the central government.

The documentary is on young artists and musicians of the trouble-torn state.

On Saturday, the ministry of information and broadcasting denied permission to screen “In the Shade of Fallen Chinar” at the upcoming tenth edition of the International Documentary and Short Film Festival of Kerala (IDSFFK).

The ministry also denied screening permission to two other films—one on the student agitation in Jawaharlal Nehru University and the other on Dalit scholar Rohit Vemula. Rohith’s suicide had sparked nationwide outrage over caste discrimination in university campuses.

Shot at the Kashmir University in June last year, “In the Shade of Fallen Chinar” captures the works of young artists, musicians and a photographer, who are also students of the institute. The protagonists in the film narrate the decades-old conflict in the strife-torn Valley as seen through their eyes and interpreted through their art.

The film was released on YouTube in August last year when Kashmir was witnessing massive street protests and retaliation by state forces after the killing of Hizbul Mujahedeen commander Burhan Wani in July.

Two directors Shawn Sebastian (26) from Kochi and Fazil NC (28) from Calicut spoke to HT on their film, the denial of screening permission, and how they plan to protest against the denial.

The two completed their post graduation in journalism from the Hyderabad University in 2014, and since then have been making documentary films.

“In the Shade of Fallen Chinar” was made under the banner of their collective production house Drokpa Films.

Here are excerpts from the interview:

How do you see this ban on screening of your film?

Shawn: It’s totally unexpected. Normally, if selection jury of a film festival selects any film for screening, it’s considered as final decision. The procedure is that the organisers send all the films selected by the jury to the ministry for an exemption certificate, and invariably each one gets it.

This time, all the selected films were given exemption certificates expect three, including ours. The government order did not mention any reason.

If you stitch together the three films, it is understood why the government did not allow them. They deal with issues that the Centre does not want people to discuss. They are films on campuses, on a vibrant youth community. Since the BJP came to power, students are at the centre of the political discourse. But then again, our film doesn’t deal with any specific political uprising, but uses artists and art to understand Kashmir.

Fazil: My assumption is that the government does not have a tool to deal with the issues portrayed in the three films. The JNU student protests or the Rohit Vemula case or the Kashmir issue ... the government has been struggling to deal with all the three. Perhaps they think it’s good to keep people away from these issues.

Tell us about the film.

Shawn: The film was shot before Burhan Wani’s death and the beginning of the protests in Kashmir. Fazil had met few Kashmiri artists when they came to Kochi some years back and that led us to visiting the KU campus.

When we visited the campus, it came as a spontaneous decision to shoot and tell a story. We shot for a week and post-processing took two more. We had initially decided to do its premiere at any film festival but then, as Kashmir became the centre of the discourse after Wani’s death, we uploaded it on YouTube. It has over 45 thousand views now.

Fazil: The characters on the film are born in the 1990s. They grew up amid the conflict and are virtually the children of conflict. They saw and experienced it all. And in the film, they spoke their hearts out without any inhibition and that’s why the film is powerful.

These young artists do not belong to any party and are completely genuine. What could the government do to control their emotions?

Does preventing a film from screening in a festival when it has already been up on YouTube for almost a year serve any purpose for the government?

Shawn: The ban does not affect viewership and number of people watching our film. Although qualitatively you get a very good audience in such festivals, quantitatively it is less. On a higher level, this is a symbolic battle because if this becomes a norm then in the future there can be serious restriction on the kind of documentary films which can be and cannot be shown in festivals.

Fazil: It should be emphasised that the government has only denied screening permission for this particular festival and it’s not an overall ban on the film.

What’s next? How do you plan to protest against this?

Shawn: We have two things on mind right now. We will approach the Kerala High Court on Monday to seek an interim relief, so that we can screen the film in the festival. Secondly, along with several cultural groups we will be conducting protest screenings of the film. ..

Fazil: We have been getting many calls from film fraternity and artists after the news broke. We are trying to arrange screening in colleges and institutes -- protest screening, where we will speak about the film and the censorship.

They (ministry) have given a new life to the film. The denial of screening has actually worked in our favour. We have become more fearless after this.

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