Multiplexes have changed my generation forever and I’m not talking about hundred-rupee popcorn. I’m talking about what we see and hear. Ten years ago, I’d go to theatres with a dozen questions: Would I get tickets? Would I have a nasty fellow sitting next to me? Would he hog the shared arm-rest? Would a bunch of brats make random remarks? Would I have to shout: ‘Shut up yaar!’? Would a large family ‘request’ me to exchange seats? Nowadays, we take our seats for granted, stand up for the national anthem and go home without talking to strangers. Unless of course, it’s a special screening. There, interesting things might happen.
Recently, I was attending one such screening. We were sitting on a dari on the floor. The person sitting next to me whispered: ‘What’s in this film that got it banned?’ Good question. What gets a film banned? I whispered back: ‘Watch. No other way to find out.’ And that’s what we did. The film, Inshallah, Football, follows a teenager called Basharat as he plays football, laughs with his coach, talks to his father, strings along multiple girlfriends. What was it about his story that gave the censor board cold feet? The answer, in a word, is Kashmir. Once I saw the film, I sort of saw why the censors were nervous about letting ordinary Indian citizens watch it. There are deeply distressing truths in it. If this had been a piece of fiction, they may have let it through. Terribly violent feature films have been made before. We’ve seen militancy, torture, corrupt policemen on screen.
But Inshallah, Football is a documentary. It offers you the truth as seen, heard and experienced by the filmmaker. It offers you the sight of a real man telling you that he has endured torture. Basharat’s father is a surrendered militant, a man who can still have a polite conversation with an officer of the armed forces who had tortured him. You can choose not to believe him. You can say: ‘So, what did he expect? Flowers? A hug?’ But still, you will have listened. You may not empathise. But you will have heard him out. Except that you won’t. Not unless the state stops trying to silence stories coming out of Kashmiri. Director Ashwin Kumar mentioned that the censor board has finally reviewed its decision, though it insists on an ‘Adult’ certificate. Whenever the film releases, in whatever format, I would urge you to watch it. Perhaps the battle against silence will be won, if you lend your eyes and ears.
There is another kind of silencing, of course, that can never be reviewed or appealed against. The kind Niyamat Ansari experienced. After he uncovered irregularities in the implementation of the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act in Jharkand, some people beat him to death. I read some reports that mentioned ‘maoists’ although the embezzlement of funds was traced to a block development officer. I don’t know what brand of ‘maoist’ picks up laathis to protect the good name of the local bureaucracy. I don’t know why we persist in calling them ‘rebels’. But I suppose the investigators know what they’re doing.
Before Niyamat died, he had spoken to other activists on camera about being arrested in a fake case. He spoke about being crammed into a prison cell with dozens of others, where there was no room to sleep, no water and no toilet facilities. Go to Youtube or Facebook and run a search for Niyamat Ansari. He’s gone now, but at least, you will have heard what he had to say.