In his documentary Take It In Blood, Rana Ghose brings together two generations of the Kashmiri struggle. Roushan Illahi, the rapper known by the stage name MC Kash, meets Parveena Ahanger, who founded the Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons after her son disappeared in 1990. As the two converse, the usually outspoken Illahi is visibly awed and subdued. He meets other veterans of the pro-independence movement, such as another mother whose son vanished years ago, and a former militant. Illahi, who raps in English, is inspired to write a song for Ahanger. When she hears it, she insists that he come over. She hugs him for a long time and both weep.
The film was made in 2011, but Ghose plans to revive its outreach and organise new screenings in the lights of the most recent events in Kashmir. In an interview, he explains the film’s genesis and its continuing relevance.
Who sparked the film – MC Kash or Parveena?
The catalyst for the film was his music. My friend Palash Krishna Mehrotra and I were hanging out at this place in 2011, and we were listening to music we find interesting and/or inspiring. He played me some MC Kash. I was pretty blown away by what I heard then, and that same night after coming home, I messaged the MC Kash Facebook page, telling whoever was on the other end that I loved his work and would love to visit him in Srinagar. I wanted to write a piece about him, and I wanted to get my head around who he was and why he was doing this. Within a day he responded, and two weeks later I was there.
At the time, I did not have an explicit intent to make a film. For our first three days together, I did not roll camera at all. We just hung out with his friends, and he and I spoke a lot about our mutual love of hip hop, talking about artists we both appreciated and respected. It was over these three days that I also met his friend, Baba Tamim, a photojournalist from Srinagar.
On the fourth day, I proposed that Roushan should meet some of the people he raps about and refers to in his music, something that, until that point, he hadn’t done. We suggested that Tamim and I would capture what might happen.
Was it your idea to bring MC Kash together with Parveena Ahanger?
Tamim knew Parveena via her work with APDP. We began rolling cameras from our first meeting onwards, and that interaction framed what the next week would present. Parveena introduced us to many of those she worked with, and a story began to unfold. Over the course of that shoot, Roushan took an evening off to go to a studio to record a track that he had been inspired to write over the course of these interactions. The name of the film is taken from the name of this track.
I did not want to engage with anyone on camera in terms of my asking any questions. My role was simply to execute the methodology I had in mind, something I explored in my doctoral research: how to engage with a community using a camera as a tool to counter the “outsider” perspective in storytelling. I wanted Roushan to guide the narrative, on his terms.
What is it about MC Kash’s music and lyrics that make him important?
His music resonates with his peers, and he has inspired many. Whether or not he is important, is, as much I know Roushan, not really a concern to him. His goal is to tell stories of his community to as wide an audience as possible, and he uses English as he feels that allows him that scale. It’s a sincere effort, one resulting from a lived experience. I would argue that people recognise that, and it’s that which underpins why his work is recognised, internalised by his audience, and cherished.
The film is at least five years old. How has MC Kash progressed since?
He’s been finishing college, and at this point is back to making music again, which is exciting. I’ve been trying to get in touch with him, but it appears that phone lines have been compromised in the valley as a means to assert control and alleged order.
There are two types of struggles in the film – one that has sprung up from the grassroots, which Ahanger represents, and the other influenced by the media that seem to have shaped MC Kash (his interest in hip-hop, news on Palestine). How do these worlds merge in Kashmir?
The sense of marginalisation at the behest of a state apparatus is real. I’ve often questioned how certain art forms are adapted and adopted in different contexts – graffiti in the late 1970s in New York City and the race, class, and identity politics surrounding that, versus, say, how a city like Copenhagen appropriated the art form in the ’80s as a more decorative narrative. The appropriation of these contexts in, say, corporate marketing strategies is real – brand associations with parkour in the Valley being one example – but underpinning this are multiple layers of association, of wanting to be heard and noticed, and of certain aspirations.
Having been to the West Bank on assignment, I do have a sense of the frustration there, one borne of entire generations knowing only that antagonism. There are parallels between the Palestinian Occupied Territories and what is happening in Kashmir. Both geographies are framed by a very real sense of longing, tempered by anger, and at times, hopelessness. In such a context, the compulsion to be free, and to struggle within that longing, is innate. Whether or not that emotion is generated from the “grassroots” or via third party narratives is, I think, far less relevant than the basic truth that those living in these environments are fighting a struggle that most of us cannot even begin to imagine or relate to.
What continues to make Take It in Blood relevant?
The geopolitics of the region and the realpolitik and vested interests of the multiple state actors involved are incredibly complex. The political stalemate that generates the pathos of ordinary people living in the region seems perennial, and given these complexities, sometimes it’s difficult to imagine change. My going to Kashmir to make this film was an eye opener, and I certainly won’t be the same. Most of my peers have not been to the region, and as such, it seems very difficult for many to relate to the scale of tragedy that unfolds on a daily basis. This is not to say there is not positivity in the region – there is. I think Take It In Blood depicts that.