Poignant waters

Poignant waters......


a review of Rajesh Jala’s Floating lamp of the Shadow valley …

*Lalit Ambardar

It is a paradox that the tragedy of Kashmir has been allowed to be presented to the world at large mostly by the very protagonists of the ongoing turmoil. Ruthless competition within the budding TV media in India has only helped the secessionists acquire political legitimacy what with the channels vying with each other to host them. Film makers have done no better. The absence of Kashmir in mainstream fiction cinema is understandable due to the obvious reasons. In the bygone days it used to be an unwritten ‘must’ to include at least one song sequence picturised in the scenic valley. Roja & Mission Kashmir did highlight the issue of pan Islamic terrorism & to a great extent managed to actually show the menace prevailing in the valley. Many other films did attempt too but failed to make any significant impact. It is ironic that the documentaries that have generally been depicting only the alleged human rights violation in the valley often to the extent that these could at best be labelled as propaganda films made at the behest of the vested interests, are well received by the self proclaimed liberals while the films focussing on the plight of common Kashmiris hardly find any audience.

Documentary film makers have a greater responsibility as they are expected to reach out to the opinion makers & the civil society in general. They need to be unbiased in all respects. But unfortunately there is a tendency to overlook the fact that the much spoken about social fabric called ‘Kashmiriyat’ today stands ruptured almost beyond repair what with the near total aboriginal Pandit community continuing to languish in exile for the past eighteen years now. The impact of mindless violence on the common Kashmiri Muslim folks is generally ignored. It is a pity that the writers, columnists, artists, film makers & intellectuals & the civil society in general continue to be lackadaisical towards the growing political stature of the those responsible for founding the ‘gun culture’ in the valley & who have now a vested interest in the on going strife, while the vast majority of hapless Kashmiris continues to mourn the tragedy of their venerated MAUJ KASHIR in silence.

The Floating Lamp of the Shadow Valley attempts to focus on the plight of those who have always escaped attention. To those who follow the events in Kashmir closely, the character of Arif – the protagonist doesn’t come as a surprise. Sheer grit and determination exhibited by Arif in the seemingly never ending struggle – yet innocence and dignity intact - is the story of today’s Kashmir. Not totally oblivious of happenings around, Arif is poised, ready to take life head on. Brutalized face of today’s Kashmir known for almost non existent crime rate till late eighties is vividly brought forth when he responds in affirmative to the possibility of his own father getting killed in firing who having been a militant was himself involved in killing people. At no stage does the boy show any confusion or panic in the daunting task of rearing his siblings. “I will educate my brothers and sister”; “I will get my sister married. I will fulfil my mother’s dream”; “I will buy a car and…a bike...” – despite the odds, this ‘little boatman’ exudes confidence and optimism. And that is the hope of Kashmir. Hats off to Arif’s mother for being bold. Refusing to be subjugated or surrender to the vicious cycle of circumstances she comes out a fighter – a typical Kashmiri mother – an inspiration. Her willpower, profound dedication towards her children and above all her blessings are enough for Arif to succeed. …Amen!

Contrary to the common anticipation Pandits in exile have generally maintained cordial relations with their erstwhile Muslim neighbours & colleagues. The failure to protect the minority manifests in their political agenda but there is no boycott. Profound bonhomie at individual levels has survived the turmoil. In the face of fear & uncertainty Kashmiris continue to breathe and live ‘Kashmir’ everyday. Rajesh Jala through Floating Lamp of the Shadow Valley shows the world the suffering of ‘our own Kashmir’. After all who could better perceive the pain and misery caused by the ongoing foreign sponsored conflict than Rajesh who like many others is himself a victim of the same conflict? It was during 1989 – 90 that Kashmiri Pandits were selectively targeted generating a fear psychosis that forced them to flee their homes and hearths and seek shelter in alien lands. I met Rajesh Jala for the first time in early 90’s in a refugee camp in Delhi’s posh South Extension area during the making of a capsule on Kashmir for a foreign TV channel. During my subsequent private visits to the camp this young boy with baritone voice always appeared to be wanting to do something – something creative. He did voicing programmes for Yuva Vani and other services of AIR. He later leant his voice to the news channel Aaj Tak. For unknown reasons he declined the offer of a TV correspondents job – camera shy…????...

Veteran filmmaker Late Arun Kaul was a great influence on Rajesh Jala. He remained associated with Baba for a long time. Rajesh has made quite a few documentaries and short films earlier but Floating Lamp of the Shadow Valley is special in the sense that it brings out his near best in terms of filmmaking including cinematography – yes, Rajesh Jala handles his own camera, location hunting and his quest for details. It is probably after Jab Jab Phool Khile that the beauty of Dal Lake and other waterways has been so beautifully captured in Floating Lamp of the Shadow Valley. Alas, there is so much of sadness hidden in the bloom. Rajesh Jala portrays death, destruction and gloom in the backdrop of the scenic beauty of Kashmir, amidst changing seasons, albeit so subtly. Yet he makes it so easy to feel the pain. As an author, director & cinematographer he has handled all the departments dextrously. The concept of telling the story through the protagonist himself has worked out well. In fact at times one gets the feeling that the Director was probing his own self, posing questions & attempting to answer them too. One who preferred to spend his nights in open when forced to live in a dingy refugee camp in the prime of his youth must be harbouring a lot of questions which need to be answered. For that matter all of us Kashmiris have a lot of questions. But we haven’t dared seek answers. In Kashmir, today there are no questions asked, no answers given. The Dal, the Vetasta & all those hills & mountains are helplessly watching the stoic silence that has engulfed the ‘Reshawar’- ‘the land of rishis’ for they know that it is the voice of Kashmiris that only could put the ‘gun’ in to silence. Alas….

Slightly streamlined editing could have made the film crisper. Long title- not so easy to remember. Shorter & inquisitive title would have been more suitable. The conversation in Kashmiri language could have been made slightly high pitched & clearly audible for the benefit of the natives who I believe should be the principal target audience as the film is an eye opener on the contemporary Kashmir. Additional Hindi subtitles could have helped to reach out to wider Indian audience. Rajesh is talented & full of ideas & energy & it is hoped that his next production will take him to even greater heights.

travelocity.co.IN flights destination linkThe film has been received very well at some of the most prestigious film festivals in the world like International Documentary Festival, Amsterdam; Palm Springs Festival, USA & Rain dance Festival, London.

International media appreciation of the film is demonstrated by what ‘The Independent, London’ wrote about the film -“Remarkable documentary. One of the most powerful films to come out of Kashmir and one of the most haunting documentaries of this year ".

The film is a ‘must see’ in particular for the Kashmir watchers..

Lalit Ambardar: A Building Design Consultant, presently based in Delhi. Has been a ‘programme coordinator’ for foreign TV & Radio bureaus. Regularly writes on 'Kashmir' in response columns of national dailies. Interests include acting & modelling.
Has acted in various tele- films, short films & TV serials for DD, Sony & Zee channels. Has done scores of ad films & print ads.

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