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News |  05 Oct 2016 17:45 |  By Suhas Thobbi

Soz - Documenting the desperate sounds of the valley

MUMBAI: Issues pertaining to Kashmir have been dealt with through several approaches, since Kashmir became a part of India’s sovereignty, and a small part of Pakistan's. Kashmiris spoke, argued, screamed, sang and eventually stone-pelted their opinions, and two filmmakers - in the midst of the probable return of a dark era in the valley - travelled to the land to hear their voices; more precisely, hear their voices sing.

Several documentaries have surfaced on the internet, few released in theatres and several banned and criticised nationwide for educating about the state’s dismal state. Through ‘Soz’, the two filmmakers - Tushar Madhav and Sarvnik Kaur - conveyed their idea of Kashmir through documentation and melodies (or as the title suggests ‘Maladies’) featuring a few of the region’s older and emerging story-tellers.

‘Soz’ opens with a frame featuring two Kashmiri buskers performing famed Pakistani sufi rock band Junoon’s ‘Sayonee’. Before we head to the details of the documentary, it is essential to understand, through immaculate sense of cinematography and story-telling, Madhav and Kaur have pinned in several subtle messages of the irony that Kashmir lives with on a daily basis - the avoidable troubles, the unfortunate contrasts and simply the possibility of ‘what Kashmir could have been’. The most militarised non-active war zone area of the world has given birth to dozens of artists in the form of poets, singers, dancers, composers, satirists, story-tellers and so on. In possibly the most expressive and youngest Kashmiri export to the world, MC Kash’s case, the bunkers, crackdowns and never-ending tense situations around his life became a reason to pick up a pen, and then a microphone.

Kash states in Soz that, fortunately or unfortunately, his every creation speaks about a troubled Kashmir. And that is yet another unfortunate irony Soz depicts in the form of Kashmir and its people. One of the youngest Kashmiri artists - MC Kash’s compositions (initially supported with backing tracks of some of the iconic tunes like Led Zeppelin’s Kashmir and Beethoven’s Symphony) speaks about personal strife and Kashmir’s war. Rapper MC Kash released his first track in 2010, titled ‘I Protest’, and soon the song was banned and Kash’s studio in Kashmir got exposed to raids prompting him to continue his art with underground productions. These, and other instances, have propelled the songwriter and other artists into being reclusive. Despite opening Sher-e-Kashmir to cultural events, MC Kash and fellow protest artists chose to not use the platform citing a prohibition on his certain original compositions.

Zareef Ahmad Zareef, possibly the most vital storyteller for Soz, talks about how Islam does not promote or support music, although Kashmir – despite being a Muslim dominated state – not only allows music as a tool of entertainment and enlightenment but encourages aspirants to extend the practice in personal and public spaces. That’s Kashmiriyat, Zareef adds. Over 700 years ago, Islam arrived in Kashmir with the Iranian saint Mir Sayyid Ali Hamadani, however, the scholar did not tamper with the environment of the then Kashmir, that proudly possessed a rich wealth of art and culture. Ladishahs (traditional satirical news reporting) , Wanwun (dying Kashmiri art form where women sing during events) and other related native music forms have been carefully discussed in Soz. The impact of the older traditional forms can be reflected with the fact that people of Kashmir still rely on Ladishahs to learn its history more than relatively modern mediums. The guitarist of the now defunct rock band ‘Poetic Justice’, Anees Zargar, however argues the lack of evolution in its own art forms avoids Kashmir and its people from moving with the times. The musician adds that the lack of evolution does not restrict to the rhythms and tunes, but the instruments too. Kashmir has an extremely ambivalent relationship with Bollywood. Although the state celebrates the popular actors and movies, Bollywood music has had absolute no influence in the region’s music and environment whatsoever.

The trailer:

Soz: A Ballad of Maladies | Official Trailer | Dir: Tushar Madhav & Sarvnik Kaur | PSBT Production 2016 from Flying Ice on Vimeo.

Soz carefully and thankfully reveals some of the uninformed historical evidences suggesting the role of Hinduism in the foundation of Kashmiriyat, and the tolerance possessed by Islam in the Kashmiri socio-political space. The arrival of Sufi and the Kashmiris’ ease in adapting to the concept can be credited to the pre-Islamic traditions of locals (Buddhists, Sikhs and Hindus) who practised rhythmic verses and songs in temples, caves and other spiritually-inclined spots. Sufi found early patronage in Kashmir as music was deeply engraved in the consciousness and practices across the region. Soz exemplified the role of Sufiyana maestro and Muslim priest Mohammed Abdullah Tibetbaqal’s love for Lord Shiva through his prayers and a retired Hindu Deputy Director’s praise for Allah documented in the history of Kashmir’s culture. That’s also Kashmiriyat, Zareef emphasises.

Towards the second half of the documentary, Madhav and Kaur present another set of Kashmiri musicians who spiritually relate themselves to India’s northernmost state, but musically and physically possess influences from the West and the ‘more stable more developed’ regions of the country. Khalid Ahamed and Kashif Iqbal, the founders of Bengaluru-based rock band Parvaaz, enjoyed the privilege of higher education from one of the esteemed universities in Karnataka, and meanwhile, recorded and released several songs with two friends under ‘Parvaaz’. The band, unlike other characters of the movie, performed an instrumental role in the passage of Soz's story – first, through the duo's pleasant memories of childhood, thus convincing that not ‘all’ Kashmiri aspiring musicians waited for pain and trouble to draw inspirations from. And second, the beautiful coincidence of how the music acted as another catalyst for the filmmakers in several scenes throughout the second half. The cinematography as soon as Parvaaz’s ‘Roz Roz’ starts playing provides another example of Madhav’s expertise in direction and understanding of songs positioning. In fact, throughout 'Soz', songs arrive at the right moment leaving the audience a bit closer to Kashmir, unconsciously learning more about its culture and asking for more.

If MC Kash sang about the oppressions and slavery, Parvaaz toured across India projecting the history of Kashmir through its poets’ verses in the form of lyrical expressions. Be it the painter Showkat Katju, or the rebellious MC Kash, the Kashmiri artists featured in Soz appealed to the youth to either pick up a brush or a microphone to channelise the anger. The effect of a song stays longer than a stone. And that stays true no matter which side one represents – the outside (India), the other side (Pakistan) or Kashmir.

In its almost 90-minute-long informative narration, Soz does not make pretentious attempt of unraveling the puzzling nature of Kashmir’s past and its reflection on the future. Soz, however, skims the surface on the existing, evident, old-school and traditional art forms but successfully dives into the depths of the desperate sounds that have refused to evolve with time and century-long fight with oppressors. Soz is a gentle amplification to the Kashmiriyat voice, a supporting act to the main event, a fraction of the necessary encouragement, a modern-age Ladishah of the current affairs, a humble story told through the lens with a study that cost not only time and money, but unrecoverable strength.

Filmmakers’ speak:

“Azaadi is a misunderstood concept. Soz is our way to tackle the mainstream media’s coverage of Kashmir. No media would show what MC Kash went through while dealing with the army. Soz does not represent pro-Kashmir or anti-establishment stance, it merely represents the people of Kashmir. The idea was to look Kashmir through art and music. Kashmir’s music is political and so its history, hence one can understand, why the three elements often coincide with each other. For us, Kashmir had been a very exhausting experience. We hope we expressed what no other film revolving around Kashmir’s art could do before. And it would take some time of recuperation for us to return to Kashmir for another project”