Kashmir has featured in numerous Indian productions as a backdrop for romance and a breeding ground of political conflict. But where are the movies by Kashmiris about Kashmir?

The independent feature Kashmir Daily hopes to correct popular perceptions and misperceptions of the state among locals and outsiders. Kashmir Daily is a labour of love by Hussein Khan, who has directed, produced and edited the movie apart from playing one of the roles. Rather than focusing on the ongoing political conflict, Khan has chosen to highlight drug abuse and unemployment.

The film ignores the clichés associated with Kashmir, including gorgeous landscapes and craggy-faced boat operators and pony owners. “We have tried to show the inner Kashmir, shooting the film in unexplored interiors of the valley, its lanes and by-lanes,” Khan told Scroll.in.

Armed with a U rating from the Central Board of Film Certification, Kashmir Daily is being screened twice a day at the auditorium of the Sher-i-Kashmir International Conference Centre in Srinagar. Khan hopes to raise funds through the screenings and release the film across the country.

“If I can do it despite the odds, so can others,” he said.

The 145-minute movie stars Mir Sarwar, who has previously appeared in small roles in Hindi films, including Bajrangi Bhaijan (2015). Sarwar plays a reporter with a small newspaper called Kashmir Daily who begins investigating drug use and joblessness and stumbles upon a shady non-governmental organisation.

The idea for the film came up during a conversation with friends, Khan said. “It was an experiment since the beginning,” the filmmaker said. “I shot scenes here and there, not thinking about the complete picture. I kept thinking, chalo wuchov kyah bani (let’s see what happens).”

The movie has been shot in Urdu and Kashmiri, and features three songs in both languages. It has been largely shot in Srinagar with local talent, including nearly 15 actors. It wasn’t easy: poor shooting infrastructure and a shortage of funds stretched the production over a two-year period.

“We did not have a lot of money and so everyone contributed to the film in more than one way,” Khan said.

Hussein Khan in Kashmir Daily.
Hussein Khan in Kashmir Daily.

The 70-lakh budget was arranged in fits and starts, and the movie was shot whenever the money came in. “Sometimes a friend would loan a lakh, sometimes I would put in money earned from other shoots,” Khan said. His company, Seven 2 Creations, also shoots commercials and commissioned events.

The biggest obstacle for Khan was discouragement and disparagement from the community. “Some people encouraged me, but behind my back, they would tell people that I had gone mad,” he said.

Some of the scepticism over Khan’s efforts might stem from the near absence of a local film industry in Kashmir. Only a handful of films have been made in Kashmiri since the first production, Jagjiram Pal’s Mainz Raat, in 1964. Kashmir is better known as a location for Indian and international movies, television shows and commercials, and it continues to attract film crews keen on capturing its natural beauty while not always acknowledging the worsening political conflict.

The local film industry was further hammered by the ban ordered by Islamic terrorists on movie theatres across the state in the early 1990s. In Srinagar itself, iconic cinemas such as Palladium and Neelam have either been shuttered or serve as security camps and hotels. The closure of the theatres has led to a thriving bootleg market, where Kashmiris may pick up pirated DVDs to see how their state has been showcased by Bollywood.

Advertisements for film screenings in Srinagar in the newspaper ‘Aftab’, October 1989.
Advertisements for film screenings in Srinagar in the newspaper ‘Aftab’, October 1989.

Khan hopes that with local support, Kashmir Daily will travel beyond the borders of his state. “The public can support us and our years of hard work by watching the film,” he said. “We can make products for outside markets in the rest of the country, or even the world.”

A greater number of local productions will help address the portrayal of Kashmiris in films, said Arif Bashir, a line producer from Srinagar. “Outsiders lose the nuances of any society, and these nuances are best understood by people who live in it,” Bashir said. “The cultural nuances of Kashmir are lost in movies.”

One possible solution is to move beyond releasing films in cinemas, especially since they are not seen as friendly places any more. “We all watch movies on internet, cable or direct-to-home transmission, but collectively we disparage the idea of cinema halls,” Bashir said. “If a hall were to open, its barricaded and guarded entrance will speak of the pressures on cinema culture in the valley and the suppression the people have faced. Going through the frisking, too, will be a reminder of the suppression.”

Neelam Singh in Kashmir Daily.
Neelam Singh in Kashmir Daily.