In the beginning there was chaos, and nothing but chaos… and I stepped into the chaos looking for an answer….
I remember from the time I was in school in the Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan, Kashmir was the place my mother always wanted to come to… a place of romance and beauty…. Years passed by… we never made it to Kashmir … and then the unrest… but now the dream that lay dormant in her was a living dream in me. I was looking for an excuse to visit this place…
About a year and half back I read the story of a successful Kashmiri Model in Bangladesh. One fine day he was arrested as a suspect RAW agent. After 40 days in prison he was deported to India. On arrival at the Delhi airport he was arrested as an ISI agent and kept in Tihar for three months. He was released because of lack of evidence, but not given a clean chit. The contradiction in the whole episode excited me….
He flew down to Mumbai and I met him. There was the man – once a model, now a suspect, a man with a broken nose, a limp and a few scars standing in front of me. Over the next few days we spoke and I realized that his story is not what I wanted to make a film on, but it started the process of another story in me. His conversations with me raised many questions in me. These were fragmented thoughts, scattered images and half spoken words.
Then I decided that I had to go…. On the 14th of October 2007, I was driving out of Srinagar airport-“WELCOME TO PARADISE” the sign board read… and all around it were bunkers, armored vehicles, barbered wires and army men. I heaved a sigh -Paradise indeed! This was the paradox that was to become a part of my sight and sound over the next few days. We drove straight to Azaan’s (my friend and guide) house. This would be my abode for the next few days as the family absolutely refused to let me stay in a hotel. I am glad that I did not insist. This was the first time I was living with a Muslim family. And the experience was most enriching. So many misconceptions, so many apprehensions – all destroyed over the next days as I ate, slept, chatted, and discovered Srinagar with Azaan and his family.
Once back in my Versova flat I try and give shape to my story but I realize that now it is perhaps more fragmented, scattered because that is what I feel about Kashmir… The shape is shapeless.
Images, images…. The magnificent Chinar trees, the cold fresh air, the extremely polluted and dirty Dal lake, the piercing looks of the army Jawans, PTV blaring everywhere, Café Arabica, Boulevard road, The posh new cottages, the burnt Habakadal with its memories of migrant Hindus, the beautiful woodwork that adorned ceilings, doors windows etc, the magnificent Dastgir sahab, the absolutely adorable kids( what was striking is how kids seem to roam around so freely in groups without any fear), the pony tailed today’s fashionable kashmiri boys, the colourfully dressed beautiful confident kashmiri women, the nun chai(salt tea), the food( I was eating all the time), The lonely army jawan, the wandering shepherds….
The day I was supposed to return back home I took a long walk up the mountain road… and at one point where it overlooked the whole city I sat down. I felt immensely sad – sad for the valley caught in this conflict of two nations, sad for this valley where trees were disappearing, heritage structures falling apart and ugly new malls coming up. Sad for the jawan whom I was trying to photograph when he stopped me ‘mera naukri jayega( I will loose my job)… paanch minute baitkar bath hi karloh( why don’t you chat with me for five minutes)”. I sat with him as he spoke about his home in the far west, about being unloved and unwanted by the local people, about being on the brink of death all the time, about a desire to speak to someone other than his colleagues.
I smiled as I thought of the young Kashmiri girls who refused to believe that I was a director, and thought that they were far better looking than the Bollywood actresses.At the same time I felt uneasy when I saw the look many of them had when a group of pretty kashmiri women passed them. I thought how I would feel if I had to pass by a man with a gun every ten minutes….I would not be happy. I know it is much more complex, but this is definitely not it! They were not complaining because things are much better now, and they have accepted this as a part of their lives…. Would I be able to do that- I am afraid not, because they also represent memories of torture, abduction, rape and death.
I remembered my walk through Habakalal, trying hard to control my tears as I stood before the house of a Hindu friend who had to migrate after the militants murdered a family member. I remembered all the stories he had told me about the house, about the chinar outside his house, about the bridge across the river on the way to his school, about the loud speaker blaring in the night asking the kafir’s (Hindu’s) to leave…. About the house with eighteen rooms… so many memories.
Later in the night in the privacy of my room I wept… wept for all those people who lost their homes, live lives in refugee camps and who have the right to this “paradise”. I remembered my home- in Bhutan, remembered how we had to leave because of political unrest, how it affected my mothers health for good, remember our car pulling away from the house of my childhood, remember the students from my dad’s school standing on both the sides of the road and throwing rose petals on our car… and my dad’s face, unflinching, strong, trying hard to control his tears waving to the kids says a good bye to the school and house he built 25 years ago.
Memories jumble, emotions erupt, images intermingle…. And I know the script is beginning, the film that I have to make- a film set in kashmir, about the loss of identity, loss of home, of history, of fear, of hope and despair….That is perhaps where the germ of MEGHA started. I started working on a script on Kashmir with Merle Kroger called THE FACE…. But somewhere the story of the dual loss was disappearing.
As we started the “I AM” series I thought that it would be maybe the right platform to start the process. I spoke to my friend and writer URMI JUVEKAR (writer Oye Lucky Lucky Oye) about the concept. She readily agreed to write the film.
Working together with Urmi has been again something that both of us have been trying for a while …. And somehow it never happened after 1994….Fifteen years later it is happening now. … MEGHA was born……
This is a film that tells the story of the paradox that is Kashmir. The story of 300,000 migrants, who have lost their home and identity. This is the story of a population stuck in a conflict situation where nothing moves.
This is the story of two friends MEGHA and RUBINA which reflect the two sides of the same coin…..
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181 PARIKH BUNGALOW
ARAM NAGAR II
MUMBAI 4000 61
DIRECTED BY ONIR
PRODUCED BY SANJAY SURI AND ONIR
WRITTEN BY URMI JUVEKAR
DOP : ARVIND KANNABIRAN
EDITOR: IRENE DHAR
SOUND DESIGN : ARUN NAMBIAR
MUSIC : AMIT TRIVEDI