SRINAGAR: Where scores of youth choose to lodge protest and raise slogans to make their voices heard, Arshad Mushtaq used theater and films to express his feelings.
A play writer, filmmaker and director, Mushtaq broke the silence of Kashmiri cinema after 40 years. He brought back powerful theater of Kashmir with his series of award winning theater plays.
The journey began during the school days of Mushtaq when he would take part in plays, drama and musical events. Hailing from Valley’s one of the oldest business families, Mushtaq had a special talent for stage and writing. After completing his schooling from Kashmir, he moved to New Delhi for his English honours. At college too, he took lead in theater and drama festivals. After returning to Kashmir, he did his master’s in Mass Communication from University of Kashmir.
In 2004, Mushtaq did his first theater play, ‘Su Ye’ which was an adaptation of Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot. The play highlighted hope amid the conflict situations in Kashmir and was well received by the locals.
“It was a kind of catharsis – a release of my own emotions. It was also a creative exercise in which I grappled with the question of how you can blend your own concerns with the hopes of those among whom you live,” said Mushtaq. The play ran on for 10-12 shows.
The play became the first Kashmiri theater play to go to an International Theater Festival in 2005. Mushtaq was awarded as the best theater director in State Film Festival for the it, besides another award by Jammu and Kashmir Academy of Art Culture and Languages for best director.
Theater has received a major set-back in Kashmir with the beginning of insurgency in 1989. No theater plays were staged here for years.
Mushtaq created history in 2006, when he made Kashmiri’s first digital feature film, “Akh Daleel Looluch” (a love story). It was after 40 years that a feature film was made in Kashmir. Set in 1887, the film focused on Kashmiri struggle against the Dogra rule. It was a time of feudal laws when Kashmiris were being used as forced labour. The film was shot continuously over 19 days during freezing winter. The film premiered in Tagore Hall to an enthusiastic crowd of 1, 200 people, some even sitting on the floor.
“It has been a difficult journey to make the film as we have no film industry here. There are no funding agencies, no infrastructure and no support from the government, I did everything on my own,” says Mushtaq.
Mushtaq received fellowship at New York University and also became the International Film Fellow at Washington University.
The heated debate over the controversial Armed Forces Special Power’s Act (AFSPA) instigated Arshad to put forth his views through theater and thus came ‘Wattepead’, another theater play. It was Arshad’s first original play written by himself.
“The play talks about the AFSPA wherein a king orders the killings of people working against the state.” The play became the first ticketed play in Kashmir and received over whelming response.
In order to make his theater a reflection of the Kashmiri society, Mushtaq deliberately uses the traditional form of artistic expression called Band Pather to highlight the tension felt by his characters on stage as well as by his audiences off it.
“If people want to understand my society, I do not want them to watch somebody else’s version. I want them to watch the theater which has emanated from this society. Borrowed interpretation only blurs the real image of a society,” says Mushtaq.
All plays made by Mushtaq have been selected for International Theater Festival.
Currently, Mushtaq is doing a 13 episode series psycho-social education with Medecins Sans Frontieres which is again the first high definition television series. It will be shown on local Kashmiri channel besides cable television. He is also working on series of plays and films.
“Even though there are least opportunities and facilities in field of film making and theater, I am determined to fight back the odds.”
Mushtaq has boycott working with Jammu and Kashmir Academy of Art, Culture and Languages.
“I feel my freedom of expression is not respected there. They are state machinery. My work is meant for people who have been suffering for decades. I do not believe in propaganda,” says Arshad