December 4, 2009
At minus two degrees celsius, Srinagar, the summer capital of the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir, was virtually freezing on November 24. But the auditorium at the Kashmir University – crammed with young men and womenÂ - was warm with an animated discussion on Bangladeshi director Tanvir Mokammel’s award-winning documentary “Swapnabhumi” and a host of other issues thrown up by it.
The seats in the auditorium were full and people sat on the passage while many others chose to stand behind the seats in big numbers. The audience, mostly young Kashmiris, seemed an engaged one, as they shot off question after question at Mokammel after the screening of his documentary, the director told The Daily Star.
During the question and answer session after the film’s screening, “they asked me all kinds of questions about the film and the issues it dealt with,” he said.
The questions mostly related to the partition of India in 1947and the Liberation War of Bangladesh in 1971. About the partition of India, the discussions were “very vibrant and the viewpoints of Mahatma Gandhi, Mohammad Ali Jinnah and Maulana Abul Kalam Azad about India’s partition were discussed,” said the director.
“I was also asked about the Liberation War of 1971. I told them in detail how the people of the then East Pakistan were economically, politically and culturally exploited by the Pakistani power elites and how we the Bengalis became disillusioned about the Pakistan state.
“I told them about the socio-political history of Bangladesh — the Language Movement of 1952, the student movements in the 1960s, the Mass Upsurge of 1969 and the election of 1970 in which the Bengalis won absolute majority and, of course, the Liberation War of 1971,” he said.
Mokammel narrated to the audience the trauma Bengalis suffered from the brutal Pakistan army — the genocide of three million people and the sufferings of ten million refugees.
“In general, the audience was very receptive and were avid listeners. The engaging question and answer session had to be terminated because of paucity of time but my discussions with the young Kashmiris went on in the lobby and in the garden of the university. It seemed to me that there was no dearth of enthusiasm among the people of Kashmir about politico-historical documentary films but they lacked exposure to this kind of cinema. They also seemed lacking knowledge about the true historical events of 1947 and 1971,” said Mokammel.
Describing the documentary festival as “quite a success,” he said two dozens of very well selected documentary films from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Nepal were showcased at the festival. The presence of filmmakers from South Asian countries “added spice to the festival held in this conflict-ridden but beautiful town of Srinangar where for the first time such an important cultural event like a film festival took place.”
What struck the filmmaker most was the comment from a young female student: “Your film, other films and this festival was a real eye-opener for us ” and the director said this seemed the “quintessential feeling” of the Kashmiri people about the Srinagar festival.