If there is HEAVEN on earth, IT WAS here, It WAS here, It WAS here.: A review of Kaafiron Ki Namaaz

Directed by Ram Ramesh Sharma, 2013

kaafiron-ki-namaaz-songs

“They say winters come early in Kashmir
Since the 1990’s,
Even evening comes early.
A sudden whistle and a few heavy footsteps
And everyone’s back home

Shops are shut,
And “Dal” stops flowing.
I remember Kashmir in old Hindi films
And in newspaper clippings
And your phone calls from Pahalgaom
All three in black and white.
Those nights, when you stole your father’s phone,
The valley crept in
Through the 6 min. conversations.
The pines and the “Chinaar’ rustling
The Sunday marketplace bustling
A gunshot here
A gun wound there
A life lost here
And “Mission Accomplished” there.
Shahid said  no trains enter
This Valley of Death.
Your calls have stopped..
And you have taken a flight out..
Kashmir now lives in your autumnal letters
Letters written in Blue.
About a paradise,
Where “Red Alerts” colour the evenings
And White Noise the Nights.
Speak to me of Us,
There was so much Love
Every night for 6 minutes.
Give some to Kashmir.
Give some to Kashmir.”

The insurgency in Kashmir and the clamour for independence from the Indian State has been a burning issue in the Indian Subcontinent since almost 1947. Narratives, counter narratives, public discourse, private memory have all jostled for space and for a representation and a voice. Voices have been muffled, screams silenced and new histories written after having erased the old. And yet, Kashmir remains a sore point, almost a blister on the skin, a wound which refuses to heal. Sadly, in the common public imagination, there have been rare instances where the plight of the Kashmiris have been portrayed  with any kind of sympathy or authenticity. There are accounts of the Hindu Pandits being forced to leave the valley and even that carries the suspicion of bias. Basharat Peer’s Curfewed Night brings forth a vivid account of the insurgency from the perspective of the Kashmiris who are decidedly against the Indian Army’s “occupation” of the valley and their subsequent atrocities that have been perpetrated on the native populace. Even in popular culture like Bollywood, barring Vishal Bharadwaj’s Haider very few movies have dealt with Kashmir as anything other than a locale or a backdrop against which the story unfolds. And this is where Kaafiron Ki Namaaz deserves a mention that is generally reserved for potboilers raking in the moolah.

Set in Kashmir, definitely during the times when the insurgency is at its prime and the valley resonates with bullet shots and the morning Azaan echoes with stories of militant encounters of questionable veracity, the chilling story of the times is narrated by an ex- army-man, who has been court martialled, in the form of an interview. The interview soon becomes a form of confession, and this confession maybe seen as a road to redemption, becoming their “namaaz” a prayer for forgiveness, ending in tragedy at the end. The setting, within a dilapidated room, with three and occasionally four characters with nothing but a live video camera recording the conversation brings to mind the setting of Sartre’s No Exit/ In Camera, where the confession and the conversation and the digging up of the past and other traumas are a punishment worse than hell.

Kaafiron Ki Namaaz  touches on themes which have troubled thinkers, human rights activists, poets and authors, namely the Indian Army’s role in quenching the insurgency. The army official reveals that with a free hand given to the army, many officials had descended to the level of beastiality and perpetrated violence only imagined in one’s worst nightmares. Thus what is an encounter with suspected terrorists in official historiography, is actually officers barging in Kashmiri household, killing the men and gang- raping the woman. The absolute normalcy with which these incidents, along with reports of gross sexual exploitation within the Army is reported is chilling. The relationship of the Indian Government with the North-Eastern states is labelled as one between a landlord and a tenant. Gandhi’s role too is up for scrutiny, with the central character blaming him for the protracted achieving of the Independence and the violence that followed in its aftermath.

It is no wonder that this was not given screen space by the censor board and had to be released on YouTube. The narrative in intensified with the use of almost a serio-comic tonality, with meaningless games and trump ( the Chaplin, not the Donald variety) like actions and exchange of dialogues. But beneath these layers, there are poignant questions that have been raised. The dichotomy between the personal and the political, the binary between right and wrong and that of between official documented history and that of repressed and traumatic private memories, are highlighted. The importance of what Foucault calls the ” Insurrection of subjugated knowledge”, the different and equally true microstorias challenging the grand narratives of patriotism, creating and exposing fissures within the monolithic and taken for granted architecture of the “nation”, are something this film upholds. Agha Shahid Ali has written extensively about how the Paradise has turned to hell, and Kaafiron Ki Namaaz underlines the problmatics of the erasure of the dividing line between friend and enemy, us and them, man and beast. At the end, with the burning of the tapes and the entire interview, it is like going back to square one, a kind of vicious circle from which there is no escape. This “namaaz” reaches no God, only ruffles the feathers in Paradise.

– Sayan Aich Bhowmick

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