‘News today is political propaganda’

Interview with documentary film-maker Sandeep Ravindranath.

Published : May 29, 2022 06:00 IST

Documentary film-maker Sandeep Ravindranath.

Documentary film-maker Sandeep Ravindranath.

The documentary film-maker Sandeep Ravindranath’s Anthem for Kashmir is a poignant reminder of the injustices and bloodshed that are an everyday ordeal for people living in the scenic Himalayan Valley, even as a linear, misleading narrative in the media prejudices most Indians against them. The nine-minute short film is a nudge on people’s conscience to understand the “other” and recognise their right to a decent life. In an interaction with Frontline, Sandeep Ravindranath shares his experience. Excerpts: 

What motivated you to come up with an “Anthem for Kashmir”?

After August 5, 2019, Jammu and Kashmir witnessed a clampdown on all means of communication and an unyielding civilian curfew. I was unable to reach out to my friends in the Kashmir Valley, an unnerving experience common to thousands of Kashmiris living in different States away from their families in Jammu and Kashmir. For years, I had seen provoking images of pellet gun victims, funerals of children, tear-gas shelling on protesters, youths in handcuff. The normalcy narrative on TV was starkly in contrast to that.

I told my friend Abhi Abbas, a lyricist, to convert images into rhymes in order to convey the truth of Kashmir. The idea translated into several coffee-shop parleys and connecting to friends in Kashmir. I have been following Kashmir for a decade and was acquainted with cases of forced disappearances, half-widows, among other atrocities. The challenge was to showcase all of that in a single narrative.

What prompted you to advertise your short film as #TheRealKashmirFiles?

A cursory look at the investigations of APDP [Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons] shows that 8,000-10,000 people living in the Kashmir Valley have been the victims of enforced disappearance in over three decades of militancy. A cycle of violence, be it random encounters, night raids or arbitrary use of anti-terror laws, continues unabated there. To have a film that ignores all of this and focusses selectively on the killing of Kashmiri Pandits, while exaggerating the nature and extent of it, is politically motivated.  “Anthem for Kashmir is a counter to that.

“The Kashmir Files” got rave reviews from members of the ruling establishment. It was made tax-free in several BJP-ruled States. How do you view the State’s endorsement of a film that was seen by some as a vehicle of hate and division?

It was not unexpected. The film served as a tool to further their political agenda. It created tacit approval for an encroachment on minority rights that we are witnessing today. The Gyanvapi mosque row, for example, has raised fears that India could once more witness the turbulence of the late 1980s-early 1990s when the Ayodhya rath yatra was at its height. Using cinema to spur hostility towards a community is not new. They are borrowing from the textbook of Germany.

Journalists and activists in Kashmir are currently working under a very restrictive environment with arbitrary use of the Public Safety Act and the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act. Did you face any roadblock or intimidation in the course of directing, producing and marketing this venture?

Some of our crew members had harrowing experiences but they have chosen to remain anonymous and have requested me not to talk about it either. Some of them got so scared that they asked me not to include their names in the credits. I can see where the fear comes from. I spent a month in Kashmir; frisking at regular intervals, done insolently, or the sheer presence of gun-toting soldiers at every nook and cranny is depressing.

Did you find peer support while making the short film?

Initially, there were disappointments. Whichever producer I approached in Kerala was alarmed at the thought of partnering a project that is set to ruffle the government. But, thankfully, there were some who agreed to provide logistical support such as free accommodation at the shooting locations. The crew was entirely Kashmiri; the director of photography, the art director, actors were excited to tell their stories and facilitated the project in their capacities. The cinematographer took me to the location where a friend of his was shot. Their experiences were a driving force and they made the film identifiable.

How do you view the role of the mass media in depicting Kashmir and in abetting the politics surrounding it?

Mass media brazenly follows the money. Those who are funding the news channels are the ones who are cohorts of the people in power. The prime-time bulletins which we have today are a game to keep their own machinery and nexus alive. News today is political propaganda.

Also read: The Kashmir Files: ‘A clear case of selective portrayal’

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