Utpal Borpujari

September 29, 2008

Kashmir On Screen: In Santosh Sivan’s Words





(Cinematographer-director Santosh Sivan who shot Tahaan entirely in the Valley before the recent unrest over the Amarnath shrine land  controversy spoke to Utpal Borpujari)

Tahaan could have been set in any part of world where there is some unrest. But Kashmir was in my mind while shooting Mani Ratnam’s Roja in the Manali area of Himachal Pradesh. I always wanted to shoot in the real location of Kashmir. The story germinated during Roja, and then I kept on developing it. In Kashmir, however, there are no donkeys, except in a small village called Sirlon from where I got the donkeys for the shooting which was done at Dalsavar village near Pahalgam


Initially, when we landed in Jammu & Kashmir, everyone was a little bit apprehensive,  because the moment you land there you get to see so much security. Naturally, the tension was palpable. It gets even worse when you have the responsibility of a whole bunch of people, the actors, the technicians, et al. It is different when you go alone as a tourist as you are responsible only for yourself.


The locals there, of course, would like more people to come as tourism is their livelihood. That way all of them were very happy to see us. When we were shooting with the donkeys and the kid, particularly when we were doing the racing scene between the donkey and the mules, people went wild, cheering us and actively participating in the whole process.


We never restricted anyone from being part of the shoot. It was just like anywhere else when there is a shooting going on, and the people there were very, very cooperative. I shot my film in winter, and the locals were also free as it was not the tourist season. So, all of them would land up at the location. It was a very good shoot and I am sure they would be very happy if I go back.


Yes, in recent times some films are being shot in Kashmir, but barring a few, most of the units shoot just a song or two, not the whole film like I did for over 40-50 days. In film shootings in India, the more you try to keep it quiet, the more people come to know about it. And then, there was this rumour that Salman Khan was shooting for my film, and that led the people to throng the locations! It was fun, but then, if you look at it, it could also have been a security issue if unwanted elements wanted to take advantage of the situation.


I shot my film in winter, not in autumn—a season favoured by filmmakers who prefer to capture the lush green meadows and hills. I actually wanted to shoot when the leaves are not there and the trees are very bare. I also wanted to capture the fresh snowfall. All that was very interesting to shoot from a cinematographer’s point of view. In fact, the weather was so unpredictable and dull grey most of the time that somebody commented that it was like the Kashmir situation – things could suddenly turn tumultuous.


The people in the area where we shot the film were pretty much clued into Hindi films, and the connection with the rest of India is very strong. Many things are changing there. I think the people there see outsiders more as tourists than anything else, just like it is in tourist-friendly states like Kerala or Goa.


I found that a lot of people there want to go out and work, and a lot of people do come out of the state. Sometimes, of course, you feel what is there for them there? It was good to see that some Army camps had set up schools for the local children, trying to get them educated. I didn’t necessarily feel any kind of hostility from any quarter.


I think the Kashmir issue is much more complex, as many people there get entangled with forces inimical to India because of economic pressures, and not necessarily because of any ideology, and it is very true in the border areas.


While we were there, we felt very sad seeing the houses abandoned by the Kashmiri pandits. That also features in the film. Anupam Kher, being a Kashmiri Pandit himself, gave us insights about the community. Some of them are still there, and they say they would rather die than become refugees. The local Muslims have fond memories of their neighbours who have fled, and say sometimes things turn bad because of the mob mentality.


As a filmmaker, I believe that cinema can only present a point of view about situations as serious as Kashmir, and cannot help resolve such complex issues. But that point of view cannot be an objective point of view. In the countless cowboy films from Hollywood that we have seen, the cowboys are portrayed as heroes, but in reality the Red Indians should be the heroes, because it is their own land that they are trying to protect. Films have the ability to turn around the reality, so we cannot really rely on films to portray the reality. It can only be a point of view. Tahaan too is.

(Published in Sakaal Times, www.sakaaltimes.com, 07-09-2008)


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