A writer friend recently asked me what I thought about the movie Kaafiron Ki Namaaz, and I confessed I hadn’t even heard of it. Early this week, while travelling back from Srinagar in a train, which had many of its windows broken, probably by angry youths during the unrest, a few replaced with boards instead of glass, I was sitting at a seat from which I was not able to look out of the window, and thought of watching the movie to pass the time. While playing it on YouTube, I was at once impressed by its opening, first by its title, then by the fact that it was set in Kashmir. I immediately saved it offline to watch it later, fearing I would miss my station if the movie continued to mesmerise me. Later at home, after having dinner, I got a chance to watch it at ease.
Kashmir is the backdrop for many films. But this movie in multiple languages, Kashmiri, Urdu, English and at times Bengali too, doesn’t seek to labour over the problems of Kashmir: as its director, Ram Ramesh Sharma, explains: ‘My movie was never about the Kashmir conflict. The conversation required an environment full of ironies and questions, where promises and heart-breaks live together.’ However, it directly and indirectly addresses blatant truths about the region in a manner that I, as a Kashmiri, found innovative and courageous.
Elements of black comedy and absurd moments characterise the opening scene, with a famous Kashmiri folk track: Tche Kus Be Kus Teli Wan Su Kus … (Who are you? Who am I? Tell us then who is He, the creator, that permeates through you and me?) projectting the tense atmosphere of Kashmir following events that generate fear. From the beginning the depictions of my homeland are vivid and vibrant with the use of metaphors and symbols. A mother remarks that time stands still here in Kashmir, while her son awaits his father, who probably died two years before as his mother is now living with her brother. A lonely soldier is beaten by locals shouting ‘you bastards have turned our heaven into hell’: they are angered about the fate of a woman named Henna whose husband was martyred; she would have been shot dead too but an Indian soldier saved her, and then another army man raped her. The narrator considers the situation of Kashmir with a third eye, and comments that there is overflowing anger here, as people start their day working amidst such tensions. The vision of Kashmir's fresh beauty is coated in gloom which we are witness to here, while the verisimilitude of the portrayal of things arrests the senses.
Later the narration explores more layers of truth about Kashmir in the shocking confessions of an army man ‘who talks like Shakespeare and who stinks like a tragedy’. Court-martialled for disrespecting the nation, he is a Muslim who was orphaned in Gujrat and lives in a hotel abandoned by a Kashmiri Pandit family. He is interviewed by a writer from Kolkata, who is proud of creating news rather telling the truth.
The army officer’s views on Kashmir are remarkable, for example, his response, ‘only on the map’, to the writer when he says ‘Srinagar, Kashmir too is India’; which is a truth. He says the Indian government often neglects Kashmir as if it were a rented house. He admits that army men rape women, sometimes dragging them off the streets, sometimes in their houses, sometimes by threatening them, sometimes by beating them. They tie their mouths with a cloth so they aren’t able to scream. But their eyes scream out so loud that a person would turn deaf if they looked at those eyes carefully. He receives a medal of patriotism for singlehandedly killing five terrorists, who were actually civilians: he confesses how his friends took him along with him at a night to rape a woman and how they killed her husband and the brothers of her husband and shot the woman dead too after raping her.
The film, though released only digitally on YouTube in 2016, is as relevant today as it was in 2012, when it was made. These fake encounters are normal here. Rape is one of the brutal facts of occupation; cases such as the mass rape of the women of Kunan Poshpora and many others are examples. Soldiers, we have been led to believe, are meant to protect people, not to kill and rape them. He also says that there are militants, not terrorists, in Kashmir.
Even if the film is based only on four individuals: an army man, a writer, a silent cameraman and Junaid, a band player and tea seller at night, it reflects the bleak horrors of their lives that spellbound the audience. It questions patriotism; national heroes like Gandhi; it interrogates acts of barbarity, and the misuse of media in manipulating truths and the proselytising of religion.
Problems faced by army men, are powerfully portrayed; soldiers are regularly drawn from impoverished sectors of society. Recent videos leaked by security persons, one a BSF followed by a CRPF, showing the poor food provided to them, are no surprise; there are stories and news of many soldiers committing suicide. The army man’s remark - ‘Even an animal would feel proud of itself if it gets to see a soldier’s life’ - says it all.
The characters' anger over trivial things highlights the overall sensitive atmosphere of the movie. Kaafiron ki Namaaz, if harrowing, is undoubtedly superb.
Muddasir Ramzan was born in 1990 in Kashmir, India, where he resides. He studied English Literature and is a budding writer. His writings have been published in various national and international journals in India, Pakistan and the UK and he regularly writes blogs for the Muslim Institute. He can be contacted at muddasirramzan[at]gmail[dot]com.