The documentary Soz A Ballad of Maladies began filming in 2013 and was completed before the most recent uprising in the Kashmir Valley. First-time filmmakers Tushar Madhav and Sarvink Kaur explore how dissent and criticism of the ruling powers have been expressed over the decades – and before the independence movement in the late 1980s – through writings, poems and ballads. The Public Service Broadcasting Trust production includes portraits of poet and writer Zareef Ahmad Zareef, artist Showkat Katju, rock band Parvaaz, hip hop artist MC Kash and cartoonist Mir Suhail. The documentary is the newest addition to a long and growing list of independent documentaries about the decades-long conflict, including Sanjay Kak’s Jashn-e-Azaadi, Ajay Raina’s Tell Them, The Tree They Planted Has Grown and Apour ti yapour. Na jang na aman. Yeti chu talukpeth, Pankaj Butalia’s Textures of Loss, There Was A Queen by Hansa Thapliyal and Kavita Pai, Iffat Fatima’s Khoon Diy Baarav, and Rana Ghose’s Take It in Blood.
The filmmakers of Soz strive to create a counterpoint to the popular narrative about Kashmir as a permanently restive region seething with anti-India hatred and Islamist tendencies. According to the filmmakers, “Pointing fingers at religious polarities in Kashmir is a very simplistic way of looking and understanding the conflict. Their social fabric has been chaffed and frayed by conflict and decades of violence. A society that has been bottling its anger and resentment is likely to find comfort in faith... The counterpoint of Sufism is not the rise in fundamental Islam, but a transformation in a Kashmiri way of life that perhaps was once serene and poetic but is now repressed.” Excerpts from an interview.
How did ‘Soz A Ballad of Melodies’ come into being?
We started filming in December 2013 when we heard about the annual Battle of Bands concert, which is organised by the Central Reserve Police Force at a venue that stayed shut as a military garrison for almost two decades. We had already been curious about the emergence of hip hop and Sufi rock in Kashmir and this concert became a perfect starting point to engage in the politics of music.
How did you narrow down your subjects – and were there people who did not want to be featured in the film?
There were a few people (like MC Kash) who we definitely wanted to be a part of the film. But because he is an underground artist, reaching him was a task that took a long time. Sometimes, we were fortunate to discover certain characters who organically became a part of the narrative on their own. Earlier on, we were only following musicians for the film. However, as we were introduced to artists like Showkat and Mir Suhail, our canvas grew bigger.
Kashmiris, especially the youth, is quite justifiably wary of the Indian media. And it takes a long time to win trust of the people there. In the course of three years, we came across several talented artists, writers and musicians, some of who were not very comfortable with the camera’s gaze. As a documentary filmmaker it is also our responsibility to maintain the faith and trust that people show in you while sharing information and knowledge that you seek. Hence, some who shared their thoughts but refused to be a part of the film were equally essential as those who are a part of the film narrative.
When you were making the film, were signs of the tensions that we now see in evidence?
The film was shot between December 2013 and August 2015 in various phases. With the overwhelming presence of the military in the city [Srinagar], there is always a sense of tension in the atmosphere. The sight of an armed soldier staring at you, right outside your hotel/guest house the first thing in the morning is not pleasant, often even intimidating. In that sense, the recent spate of violence comes as no surprise since the resentment against AK-47 wielding soldiers is a reality for all of Kashmir.
At the time we were shooting no active incidents of violence erupted in the main city or the places we travelled to. But a possibility was never too distant. Though, we did hear about an encounter that happened in Shopian in 2015, and state-imposed curfews on the 15th of August and 26th January were an annual affair.
Have you been in touch with the people interviewed in the film about recent events? What are they saying?
We have been in regular touch with most of the people who have featured in the film through phone calls and Facebook. Of course, this recent period of curfew has seen continuous blackouts of phone and internet networks in Kashmir. It has been extremely difficult to reach and connect with our friends there. Some of them have also faced political backlash at their workplaces because of their ideas and politics. It was really unfortunate that we couldn’t even greet our friends on Eid this time as no mobile or internet network in Kashmir was accessible.