Book review

Love, pain and film-making in Kashmir make this novel an unusual story from the state

A novel of grace, sadness and self-discovery that sidesteps the obvious.

Kashmir has been special to Hindi cinema since the 1960s and those Eastman Color images of Shammi Kapoor serenading Sharmila Tagore on a shikara, the lovely vistas of the Dal Lake, and local beauties in costumes that must have seemed very exotic to viewers in other parts of the country. This was – to use a cliché – paradise before it was lost, and decades before a newer sort of film was forced to deal with the state as a place of violence and cultural confusion; where love might still unfold in idyllic settings, but accompanied by a sense of urgency and the knowledge that it all might suddenly be lost. In Cine-Kashmir 2.0, a gentle melody like “Chupke se sun” (from Mission Kashmir) overlaps with a violent childhood memory, and the title song sequence of Dil Se surreally places images of passion against a backdrop of bullets and barbed wire, to create an effect drastically removed from that of “Yeh Chaand sa Roshan Chehra”.

Selina Sen’s novel Zoon is about the making of two very different sorts of Kashmir films, shot ten years apart: one in the late 1980s, and the second, a continuation and completion of the first, in the late 1990s. The book’s premise derives loosely from the circumstances surrounding Muzaffar Ali’s shelved real-life project Zooni, starring Dimple Kapadia and Vinod Khanna. But as it weaves fiction out of a factual footnote, Zoon becomes a moving story about the gap between innocence and experience, as filtered through the perspective of a young woman named Joya.

The two films

Joya, when we meet her in 1988, is a film-school graduate who lands a dream job as assistant to the respected director Sudhanshu Rai. A rare creature in the Bollywood of the time, Rai is taken seriously for his artistic integrity but has also recently had one big commercial hit. Now he wants to make a period film about Habba Khatoon, the 16th century poet who became queen to the ruler Yousuf Shah Chak before their love story ended in tragedy, and whose plaintive songs are still remembered and sung in the Valley.

Researching this medieval tale, Joya quickly proves her worth. Though haunted by dark childhood memories, she has a good head on her shoulders along with a willingness to work hard – even if she shows her age occasionally by being a little pretentious (dropping names like Dali and Bunuel, trying to sound well-travelled despite never having been out of India).

Arriving in Kashmir for the shoot, she meets the other members of the crew, including an Oscar-winning British cinematographer, becomes fascinated by the land and is gradually drawn towards one of her co-workers, a young historian named Rashid. Their relationship moves from mutual wariness to empathy and then attraction, but bigger forces are at work around them. As so often happens, art is suffocated by local politics, the film shoot is abruptly cancelled and the two lovers are separated, much like Habba and Yousuf were centuries earlier.


Apart from being a gracefully told story about self-discovery, loss and redemption, Zoon is an account of the many interlinked challenges of filmmaking: a director of photography finding the right look for a character or situation, a location scouter for a period film ruefully abandoning an idea because research shows that a building or a flora type wasn’t around during the era in question. It is a reminder of the little things that go into the creative process – the mechanisms of inspiration, how hard work may be complemented by serendipitous discoveries.

The contrast between the two Kashmir films also raises questions about the relationship between art and life. Without giving away too many details, the film that Joya eventually helms a decade after Rai’s abandoned Zoon is more wide-ranging and formally ambitious than the original. The first Zoon is a somewhat circumscribed story about two people, with a certain amount of political detail inevitably woven in; the second merges past and present, using the Habba Khatoon narrative to link the many struggles and personal histories of modern Kashmiris. By this point, Joya’s own experiences have made her conscious of the need to tell a story through as many perspectives as possible, to be balanced and fair.

Big picture or small?

It is possible, of course, to argue that good art doesn’t usually come out of a self-conscious effort to be “balanced” in this sense, and that a well-made film which wants to be “simply” a love story can be every bit as worthy as a well-made film that is more explicitly political and ambitious. But such a thesis can fall apart in a place as beset by strife and the weight of history as Kashmir is: is it possible here for a filmmaker (or a novelist) to focus on individuals without recognising how they are affected and moulded by the larger stories playing out around them? For me, one of the achievements of Zoon’s last few chapters was that after reading the descriptions of the second film, I felt a wistful desire to see it.

I had a few minor reservations too, most of them involving what felt like “first-draft errors” – cases of a rushed production process where an early version of a manuscript wasn’t given adequate attention by a copy-editor, and a few rough-hewn passages made it to publication. There are some typos and grammatical errors: tenses are mixed (“The story of Zoon has been set in motion and Rai was constantly on the phone every night…”; “He examined her aerial views of the Valley at dawn, the ones she has taken from Shankaracharya Hill…”), and other little mistakes, such as “ostensibly” being used where “ostentatiously” was probably intended (“She wished she had chosen her white shirt instead of this conspicuous colour. This shirt, so ostensibly orange…”). Sudhanshu Rai’s name changes to “Shantanu Rai” and back again.

The book also felt longer than it needed to be, swamped at times by detail and description, over-written in places (“Joya felt a tightening in her chest, heart strings pulling tight. Rashid, next to her, exuded a similar feeling of constriction, a clamping of fingers into fists”; “…the turmoil of unbearable guilt and self-loathing, a summons which pummeled her with schizophrenic refrain”) and a little too adjective-heavy (“The disparaging note hummed down the wire with an audible sniff”). Despite bouts of annoyance, these things didn’t interfere much with my reading; if it’s plot and narrative that you’re mainly concerned with, Sen keeps things moving along at a good pace.

A strength of her writing is the verisimilitude in the depiction of the two time-periods, even when it comes to throwaway details (such as Joya’s email ID – a plausible vsnl.com). Those of us who lived through these years will be reminded of how much changed between the 1980s and the late 1990s: the internet and cellphones were in their nascent form during the latter period, irrevocably altering our accessibility to information and to each other; the multiplex era had started changing the way films were conceived and distributed; some types of stories – about people losing trace of each other, for example – that made sense in the 1980s had become laughably dated a decade later.

Without delving too deep into Kashmiri politics, or turning her novel into a tract, Sen has created a simple but engaging story about the relationship between the personal and the political, full of snapshots of people, their conflicts, little glimpses of what they may or may not have done – eventually leaving the reader with a dull ache for a way of life being slowly eaten away, and for a land that continues to be a beautiful enigma. Or as the old film song would have it, “Koi raaz hai iss mein gehra”.

Zoon, Selina Sen, Tranquebar Press.

Support our journalism by subscribing to Scroll+ here. We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
Sponsored Content BY 

The next Industrial Revolution is here – driven by the digitalization of manufacturing processes

Technologies such as Industry 4.0, IoT, robotics and Big Data analytics are transforming the manufacturing industry in a big way.

The manufacturing industry across the world is seeing major changes, driven by globalization and increasing consumer demand. As per a report by the World Economic Forum and Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu Ltd on the future of manufacturing, the ability to innovate at a quicker pace will be the major differentiating factor in the success of companies and countries.

This is substantiated by a PWC research which shows that across industries, the most innovative companies in the manufacturing sector grew 38% (2013 - 2016), about 11% year on year, while the least innovative manufacturers posted only a 10% growth over the same period.

Along with innovation in products, the transformation of manufacturing processes will also be essential for companies to remain competitive and maintain their profitability. This is where digital technologies can act as a potential game changer.

The digitalization of the manufacturing industry involves the integration of digital technologies in manufacturing processes across the value chain. Also referred to as Industry 4.0, digitalization is poised to reshape all aspects of the manufacturing industry and is being hailed as the next Industrial Revolution. Integral to Industry 4.0 is the ‘smart factory’, where devices are inter-connected, and processes are streamlined, thus ensuring greater productivity across the value chain, from design and development, to engineering and manufacturing and finally to service and logistics.

Internet of Things (IoT), robotics, artificial intelligence and Big Data analytics are some of the key technologies powering Industry 4.0. According to a report, Industry 4.0 will prompt manufacturers globally to invest $267 billion in technologies like IoT by 2020. Investments in digitalization can lead to excellent returns. Companies that have implemented digitalization solutions have almost halved their manufacturing cycle time through more efficient use of their production lines. With a single line now able to produce more than double the number of product variants as three lines in the conventional model, end to end digitalization has led to an almost 20% jump in productivity.

Digitalization and the Indian manufacturing industry

The Make in India program aims to increase the contribution of the manufacturing industry to the country’s GDP from 16% to 25% by 2022. India’s manufacturing sector could also potentially touch $1 trillion by 2025. However, to achieve these goals and for the industry to reach its potential, it must overcome the several internal and external obstacles that impede its growth. These include competition from other Asian countries, infrastructural deficiencies and lack of skilled manpower.

There is a common sentiment across big manufacturers that India lacks the eco-system for making sophisticated components. According to FICCI’s report on the readiness of Indian manufacturing to adopt advanced manufacturing trends, only 10% of companies have adopted new technologies for manufacturing, while 80% plan to adopt the same by 2020. This indicates a significant gap between the potential and the reality of India’s manufacturing industry.

The ‘Make in India’ vision of positioning India as a global manufacturing hub requires the industry to adopt innovative technologies. Digitalization can give the Indian industry an impetus to deliver products and services that match global standards, thereby getting access to global markets.

The policy, thus far, has received a favourable response as global tech giants have either set up or are in the process of setting up hi-tech manufacturing plants in India. Siemens, for instance, is helping companies in India gain a competitive advantage by integrating industry-specific software applications that optimise performance across the entire value chain.

The Digital Enterprise is Siemens’ solution portfolio for the digitalization of industries. It comprises of powerful software and future-proof automation solutions for industries and companies of all sizes. For the discrete industries, the Digital Enterprise Suite offers software and hardware solutions to seamlessly integrate and digitalize their entire value chain – including suppliers – from product design to service, all based on one data model. The result of this is a perfect digital copy of the value chain: the digital twin. This enables companies to perform simulation, testing, and optimization in a completely virtual environment.

The process industries benefit from Integrated Engineering to Integrated Operations by utilizing a continuous data model of the entire lifecycle of a plant that helps to increase flexibility and efficiency. Both offerings can be easily customized to meet the individual requirements of each sector and company, like specific simulation software for machines or entire plants.

Siemens has identified projects across industries and plans to upgrade these industries by connecting hardware, software and data. This seamless integration of state-of-the-art digital technologies to provide sustainable growth that benefits everyone is what Siemens calls ‘Ingenuity for Life’.

Case studies for technology-led changes

An example of the implementation of digitalization solutions from Siemens can be seen in the case of pharma major Cipla Ltd’s Kurkumbh factory.

Cipla needed a robust and flexible distributed control system to dispense and manage solvents for the manufacture of its APIs (active pharmaceutical ingredients used in many medicines). As part of the project, Siemens partnered with Cipla to install the DCS-SIMATIC PCS 7 control system and migrate from batch manufacturing to continuous manufacturing. By establishing the first ever flow Chemistry based API production system in India, Siemens has helped Cipla in significantly lowering floor space, time, wastage, energy and utility costs. This has also improved safety and product quality.

In yet another example, technology provided by Siemens helped a cement plant maximise its production capacity. Wonder Cement, a greenfield project set up by RK Marbles in Rajasthan, needed an automated system to improve productivity. Siemens’ solution called CEMAT used actual plant data to make precise predictions for quality parameters which were previously manually entered by operators. As a result, production efficiency was increased and operators were also freed up to work on other critical tasks. Additionally, emissions and energy consumption were lowered – a significant achievement for a typically energy intensive cement plant.

In the case of automobile major, Mahindra & Mahindra, Siemens’ involvement involved digitalizing the whole product development system. Siemens has partnered with the manufacturer to provide a holistic solution across the entire value chain, from design and planning to engineering and execution. This includes design and software solutions for Product Lifecycle Management, Siemens Technology for Powertrain (STP) and Integrated Automation. For Powertrain, the solutions include SINUMERIK, SINAMICS, SIMOTICS and SIMATIC controls and drives, besides CNC and PLC-controlled machines linked via the Profinet interface.

The above solutions helped the company puts its entire product lifecycle on a digital platform. This has led to multi-fold benefits – better time optimization, higher productivity, improved vehicle performance and quicker response to market requirements.

Siemens is using its global expertise to guide Indian industries through their digital transformation. With the right technologies in place, India can see a significant improvement in design and engineering, cutting product development time by as much as 30%. Besides, digital technologies driven by ‘Ingenuity for Life’ can help Indian manufacturers achieve energy efficiency and ensure variety and flexibility in their product offerings while maintaining quality.

Play

The above examples of successful implementation of digitalization are just some of the examples of ‘Ingenuity for Life’ in action. To learn more about Siemens’ push to digitalize India’s manufacturing sector, see here.

This article was produced on behalf of Siemens by the Scroll.in marketing team and not by the Scroll.in editorial staff.