Sunday, February 16, 2020

How the "camp life" was brought to screen in Shikara

Guest post by Nitin Dhar on how the "camp life" was brought to screen in Shikara (2020). How the sets were not just movie sets but more than that. 

I was born in 1993, three years after my family like all other Kashmiri Pandit (Hindu) families were forced out of our homeland, Kashmir by the radical Islamist terror outfits and separatist groups for their aim of 'Aazaad Kashmir' to cut Kashmir off India and make it an Islamic state. Selective targeting of renowned Hindus in Kashmir began from mid 1989, followed by gang rapes of Hindu women, abductions, loots, burning of our houses and desecration of temples. It was a massacre and an ethnic cleansing on religious basis on the soil of independent democratic India.

My family lived in the refugee camps in tents where my parents got married. Like Shiv and Shanti in 'Shikara', the only thing they had was love and hope through all these years of exile. I was born in Jammu and lived in refugee camp called Purkhoo Camp till the age of 14. The only thing that all parents in the camp focussed on was educating their children and not letting their religious persecution sow seeds of hate or revenge. It truly was our resilience and belief in education, love and peace that made us stand on our own feet. We did not pick up stones or guns. We chose pens, peace and hope. And here we are prospering, even in exile.

Almost three decades after the the Kashmiri Pandits' ethnic cleansing, I got the opportunity to work on 'Shikara'. It was an extraordinary learning for me, like thousands of those young Kashmiri Pandits who participated in the film and portrayed themselves in it, to witness the tragedies our families went through before our birth.



Ever since I started pursuing photography and filmmaking as my career, I used to think many times that I would definitely have photographed our life in the camps had I been a photographer then, to record images of our tragedy for the world to know.

My grandfather passed away in 1997 due to PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). During the early years of us living in the Purkhoo Refugee Camp in the isolated outskirts of Jammu, he would wear his pheran (long woolen coat) in the scorching heat and run away from the quarter thinking he going back to Kashmir. In less than a kilometre he would faint and fall on the road. People who recognised him would bring him home on their shoulders. He would then take a while to recover. This repeated several times. I will never forget him bringing pieces of bricks and wood to build a small house model and tell me that's how we would make our house again, a house that we could call home in Kashmir. He was not alone, there were thousands of old men and women who went through PTSD and succumbed to it. Such PTSD is also visible in obsession about news on Kashmir and watching DD Kashir no matter where we live in exile. Besides that, hundreds died because of snake bites, scorpion bites, sun strokes, brain tumour, cardiac arrests etc. For me, every death in exile is martyrdom. It was not just the Kalashnikovs in the hands of Islamic Jehadists in Kashmir that made the Jhelum weep of the Hindu blood, but also the deaths in exile due to the direct consequences of the forced displacement, lest we forget.



On the sets of Shikara, I met many such fellow Kashmiri Pandit refugees who suffer from PTSD. Who wept looking at the recreated camps and who's chins shivered during scenes that haunt them in their dreams even today.

People who lived in the extreme cold climate of Kashmir, had to suddenly suffer temperature above 48°C, face scarcity of drinking water, electricity and no sanitation or health care. It takes unimaginable courage to look forward and build prosperous lives despite being brutalised and persecuted by one's own neighbours, and being failed by one's own state and fellow citizens.
Nevertheless, we stand united in our belief in unity, education, justice and non-violence, come what may.

The refugee masses in 'Shikara' are not actors. They are real Kashmiri Pandit refugees who still live in Jagti Refugee Camp in the outskirts of Jammu. This film is the first of its kind.


When the tent camps were being recreated, I remember, Vinod Sir asking me to walk with him during our multiple recces to make sure of authenticity. He even asked me if I had things that the govt. might have provided when my family was in tents, and coincidentally I remembered that we still had an Usha table fan and a couple of blankets that were provided by NGOs and govt. I got them the next day and we put them in Shiv and Shanti's tent. Another short incident that I will never forget is when we got the refugees from Jagti Camp to the tent camp set, I overhead a little girl sitting in the lap of her mother inside one of the tents. As her mother was emotional and nostalgic, the little girl asked her, "Mumma, aap itne saare log itne chote se tent mein kaise rehte the"? There was silence. I bit my lower lip and walked away to hide tears swelling in my eyes as the mother gave her child a teary smile and a big hug. There are many such examples and stories from the sets of Shikara of how the realism of the sets reflected in the moist eyes and wistful smiles.

Sonal ma'am [Sonal Sawant], who was our production designer made everything look so real. I was myself always surprised as to how she would make the texture of the mud, aging of the tents and the tiles in the narrow lanes of pucca quarters resembles the ones I had in my memory.
Ranga Sir [Rangarajan Rambadran], who was our cinematographer and my HOD did a magician's job with his imagery, giving us first set of pictures that represent our painful past with so much authenticity.

I can never forget my chats with Rahul Pandita about our exodus and the great event of this film finally being shot. He and his extraordinary book Our Moon Has Blood Clots, have been the source of inspiration for this film and for me in many many ways. He's our hero. Our real life Shiv.
Here are some more pictures that I present from the sets of Shikara. Hope these images will reach hearts and pull out some kindness. It's never too late for solidarity and support.

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You can catch the full set of pics and stories at instagram of Nitin Dhar [@wordslivelonger] where the whole series is available there.



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