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Waging love against war

At the music release of "Sheen" in Jammu, emotions ran high. But when has Bollywood ever been short of melodrama? ANJANA RAJAN reports on Ashok Pandit's Bollywood directorial debut.

Tarun Arora and Sheen.

YOUR AVERAGE Bollywood film is never short on emotions. Tears of laughter, tears of grief, pour in plenty all over the sets, often flowing copiously from the audience's side too. Even tears of perplexity and anger. But rarely are viewers bored to tears in this paradise of melodrama and technical prowess. So it should come as no surprise that a film that features new stars and a debutant director is set against the turbulent backdrop of the exodus of Kashmiri Pandits from their homeland into the Jammu valley and other parts of the country.

Ashok Pandit, a veteran of theatre and tele-serials who has now taken to film direction, could not have chosen a more charged theme for his debut directorial venture, "Sheen" whose title is the Kashmiri word for snow. The emotional turmoil of being exiled from one's homeland and the struggles of the Kashmiri Pandits are firsthand experiences for Ashok Pandit, who has lived in a refugee camp in Jammu along with his relatives and whose grouse is that though films on Kashmir are made about the Kargil war and about terrorists, no film has ever depicted the plight of the Kashmiri Pandits. At the elaborately designed music release event arranged at the Pourkhou refugee camp in Jammu the other day, as the mikes broiled and spluttered, Ashok Pandit, along with his star cast, kept up the refrain that the film - produced and directed by Pandit under the banner of Sahara India Mass Communications Limited - was not a mere story but the very truth, a truth that no filmmaker or production house had so far had the courage to interpret on celluloid. The CD, produced by Venus Music, was formally released by the venerable old Janaki Mal Kaul. "History is being made here!" declared the master of ceremonies, stressing the uniqueness of a film's music being released at a refugee camp by an ordinary old woman instead of at some posh commercial venue by a famous personality. Never mind that it was released all over again at a posh Jammu hotel in the presence of VIPs later in the evening!

The brand new heroine, whose off-screen name is also Sheen, tenderly clasped `Mata ji's' cheeks and told the crowd - estimated at around 4000 - that though she hailed from Lucknow, she had considered herself a "Kashmir ki beti" ever since she began working in the film. Adeptly projecting an innocent flower image, she ended with, "My prayer is that you people should forget all the sufferings you have faced and return to your homes. Kehte hain, Bhagwan ke yahan der hai, andher nahin. I am sure it will come true, as a girl is praying for you sincerely." The crowd cheered obediently. The hero, Tarun Arora, after regaling the audience with an opening sentence in Kashmiri, told them of his "great sympathy" and his special connection through his mother, who was born in Jammu. "I hope to meet you again, but I hope that next time you will be in your homeland," said the model-turned-actor, relieving the rhetoric with a touch of sincerity when he admitted that although he may not have actually experienced their plight, "I have felt it, at least through my acting."

While Ashok Pandit and Raj Babbar, who plays the pivotal role of Sheen's father, Pandit Amarnath, both admit that a film cannot change the reality, and merely hope to raise awareness, they used their oratorical skills to fine effect. "This film has been written and performed by every Kashmiri Pandit," thundered the director. "All Kashmiri Pandits are Pandit Amarnath, all the Kashmiri Pandit girls are Sheen, all the boys are Mannu. All the people assembled here should pray that on the day `Sheen' is released, nothing else should be visible in the world!"

Janaki Mal Kaul releasing the music of "Sheen".

Raj Babbar pointed out that people who term the Kashmiri Pandits and those like them refugees should "drown in shame" as there is no such thing as a refugee within one's own country. Showering praises on Subroto Roy of Sahara for financing the film, Pandit recounted, "I had taken this script to so many producers but no one listened to me. I consider him as Krishna Bhagwan, and I touch his feet in obeisance, as do 3.5 lakh Kashmiri Pandits."

Eminent Hindi poet and writer, Dr. Agni Shekhar, on whose short story the film is based, did his share of fanning emotions when he said, "Our only fault was that we are a peace-loving people. We refused to burn the flag of Mother India, we didn't take the part of the terrorists. Ashok Pandit is from among us, hamare beech mein se ek honhaar bacchaa. After his documentary film `Human Tragedy' on forced migration I suggested he make a feature film that would take our message to crores of people. I count Raj Babbar, who symbolises all Kashmiri Pandits, as one among us, and I count Tarun Arora and Sheen among our own children."

Whether Ashok Pandit - who claims the film is about all victims the world over, and feels it can take a message to terrorists too - has succeeded in turning his personal sufferings into the universal experience that is art, can only be gauged when the film releases, scheduled now for early February. In the meantime, the promotional clips promise melodious music by Nadeem-Shravan and picture-perfect Sheen romancing handsome Tarun against scenic Kashmir snowscape.

More prancing around the trees, interspersed with gory violence? Well, remember, these are chinar trees, and that is supposed to make all the difference!

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