“Art for the heck of art is one thing. Art for personal healing is another,” says Ali Saffudin, a student at University Of Kashmir, and a gifted musician. He and his friends are sitting on a fallen Chinar trunk on which are scribbled words like freedom and peace, and names like Da Vinci, Raphael and Jinpachi Mishima. At a university campus in a different city, these words might not sound important enough. But in this valley, infested with conflict and overtly powerful armed forces, where life is constantly threatened by military crack down, this attempt to air emotions through creative work seems uniquely compelling.
Saffudin, and a bunch of his college-mates are featured in In The Shade Of Fallen Chinar, a documentary by two Malayali filmmakers, Fazil NC and Shawn Sebastian. It is one of the three documentaries banned by the government of India from being screened at the upcoming International Documentary And Short Film Festival of Kerala. No reason has been cited for this decision by the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting.
The 16-minute film, set in the campus of University Of Kashmir in Srinagar, doesn’t come across as a provocative ban-worthy work, in any capacity. It showcases some marvellous musicians, bright writers, artists and a photographer whose works are marked by the emotional trauma and deep personal losses they have experienced in Kashmir. Unlike their parents’ generation, they choose art over guns to mark their resistance to the ever-turbulent political atmosphere in the valley. Their works take inspiration from the explosive reality they live in.
The film is well-made, hardly bearing any sign of being amateur, although the makers say this was a ‘personal project’ instinctively shot while Fazil was visiting his friends at the University campus in June 2016. Every evening, a group of students gather in a space dotted by Chinar trees inside the campus; there, they sing, write, paint, and exchange ideas.
The film has an energy akin to Bahman Ghobadi’s film, No One Knows Persian Cats, which narrates the struggles of an underground indie band in Iran where a high-handed regime enforces a cultural emergency, barring artists from doing what they are good at. The angst-filled voice of rap musician Mu’Azzam Bhat sets the background for many visuals of youngsters engrossed in their work. At one point, spirited beats of rap music echo as the students continue talking about how art is helping them channel their political views and repressed emotions. It is an interesting instance where prose gives way to poetic lyrics. Art is an emotional release for me, says one of the musicians. There is a female student of fine-arts who travels to the University everyday, from a distant village, to be with this artist community. The ambiance is thoroughly optimistic.
In the Shade Of Fallen Chinar also attempts to place the aspirations of artists beyond the theme of political resistance. My music isn’t just about conflict, says Saffudin. “I am a rock and roll fanatic. I love that kind of music. It would be amazing if there was a vibrant music scene here (in Kashmir).”
The end note of the film says that a month after the film was shot, the University was shut down following violent protests that were triggered by the killing of a young militant, Burhan Wani.
The Chinar trees too, were cut and removed from the campus.
Saffudin continues to write and compose songs. He has also performed in a few venues outside the country.
Shahariar, the photographer, has published a book.
The artistic shelter that the youngsters had created to shield themselves from the conflict might be lost, but Fazil, who is in touch with them, informs me that they continue to meet at cafes and various political events in Srinagar. “They are very actively involved in everything,” he says, ” I am also coordinating with several Kerala-based organisations to bring those guys to Kerala.”
Watch the film here: