Oscar-nominated director Ashvin Kumar’s latest film is a love story set in Kashmir

sKolkata-born film-maker Ashvin Kumar’s grandfather was Kashmiri, and he spent all his childhood vacations in the idyllic valley. But it was on his return after two decades, in 2009—when militancy was at its peak—that he was confronted by the grim realities of life there, and its whitewashing at the hands of the mainstream media.

So, the director, whose Little Terrorist (2005) was nominated for Best Live Action Short Film at the Oscars, decided to remedy this with two unflinching sociopolitical documentaries: Inshallah Football (2010) and Inshallah, Kashmir (2012). They were both first banned and then lauded in head-scratching succession, and went on to win National Film Awards, in 2011 and 2012, respectively.

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The same pattern of controversy is erupting around his latest offering, the feature film No Fathers In Kashmir, an evocative, coming-of-age love story. It’s the tale of Noor, a British-Kashmiri girl who returns to the valley to better understand her father’s disappearance. She’s accompanied by Majid, a local boy in the same predicament. As they attempt to solve their shared mystery, the two quickly fall in love, and when they veer into dangerous territory at the India-Pakistan border, they’re wrenched apart. “I made a movie for 16- to 25-year-olds in which they could see a reflection of themselves. I hope lots of hearts break and lots of tears are shed. And by doing that, people will empathise with what’s happening in the valley, so that the process of dialogue can begin,” says Kumar.

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He treads new territory in this work, blending elements of classical Hollywood cinema—which has informed much of his work—with the gritty realism of documentary film-making. “This might be the reason the censor board has taken exception to it. The more real it is, the more problematic it gets,” muses Kumar, who is currently embroiled in an all-too-familiar war with the film regulatory body. After stalling the release of the film, the CBFC gave it an ‘A’ certification, which he protested was “as good as banning a film” in an open letter to its chief, Prasoon Joshi.

But Kumar remains undaunted and assured that he will prevail in court, and plans to release the film early next year. “The idea of this film was to invite, not to antagonise. Come and see the reality of what is happening in Kashmir.”

Photographs: Haider Hussain; Anish Gawande (Dal Lake)

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