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Mission Kashmir

Ashok Pandit is passionate about his maiden film "Sheen" scheduled to release on April 23


If there is a paradise on earth
this is it, this is it...

THIS IS what is said of Kashmir, which has ceased to remain so in the last few years.

Ashok Pandit has seen it all - the pain and trauma of suffering, rootlessness, exodus and suppression. As a Kashmiri Pandit, he has lived through the last 13 years espousing the cause of the displaced community. Bereft of a home in Srinagar as he had to leave it in 1990 along with three-and-a-half-lakh fellow community men, Ashok Pandit has been fighting for the rights of a community which has neither retaliated with weapons nor received any attention or sympathy from fellow country men and the world. With Sheen, his directorial debut on celluloid, he tells the harrowing tale which forms the backdrop to the love story. Being a victim himself, he brings out the pathos of the victims through the film. Although he lives in Mumbai, he used to shuttle between Kashmir and Mumbai. As a prelude to the film he made a documentary (containing footage taken over the years) titled ... And the World Remained Silent in 2000, which was shown in the U.S., U.K. (was shown in the House of Commons) and Canada. The documentary revolves around the Kashmiri Pandits affected by terrorism in the State. This realistic documentary in a way gave way to a larger canvas - a feature film.

"Sheen is all about rootlessness. It is not just the loss of property or money. We fear losing our culture and identification," says Pandit, who has been associated with the big names in theatre and cinema like M.S. Sathyu, Aziz Mirza, Kundan Shah. Although the film focuses on the Kashmiri Pandits, it also looks at the plight of the Kashmiri Sikhs and Kashmiri Muslims who raised their voice against terrorism. "January 19, 1991 was a decisive day when the honour and dignity of Kashmiri pandits was attacked. Since we are a literate community and conform to non-violence we were passive and forced to leave. We (including I) lived in refugee camps. We thought we could go back soon. But nothing happened. We formed Panun Kashmir, which is working for the community. Even after so many years of exile nothing has happened. More importantly, nobody is talking about the Kashmiri pandit exodus. Every one is silent. There is total apathy," he laments. But during these years Pandit kept going to Kashmir from Mumbai as if on a mission to the State.

About four years back Pandit decided to make a film. "Mahesh Bhatt, a close friend of mine, has been talking about this issue. So Raman Kumar and I worked on the script with Bhatt as a bouncing board. We based the script on a short story Meri Zameen by Dr. Agnishekhar. The story provided the spark. Then Bhatt took me to Saharasri Subroto Roy and when he heard the story he was ready to fund it."

Pandit did not shoot the film in Kashmir more out of protest. "I thought if I go everyone (all the Pandits) should go. Also, people would be under the impression that the situation is normal because a film is beings shot there. I was also considering shooting when a group of 25 pandits were killed. Then I felt I couldn't take the risk. Instead, I chose virgin locales in Himachal Pradesh and Ladakh. I got a huge refugee camp set made in Film City, Mumbai."

The script weaves in romance and innocence amidst real life images and incidents. The cast comprises Raj Babbar, Kiran Juneja, Anup Soni, Sheen (the corporate face of Sahara) and Tarun Arora. "I wanted new faces who could identify with the characters. "A slightly shorter version of the film is being shown at Geneva at a human rights conference on April 8. (Coincidentally the movie too incorporates a scene where Raj Babbar visits Geneva for a human rights conference and presents a speech).

"I am a film-maker and I wanted to present an issue. Sheen stands for snow but I am talking of the warmth and heat beneath snow," says Pandit, who is steeped in the cause. This 4-crore movie has music by Nadeem Shravan. The audio was released in a refugee camp in Kashmir

Pandit did theatre for IPTA and quite a bit of television. He assisted in serials like Yeh Jo Hai Zindagi and Nukkad before he directed Filmi Chakkar and Tere Mere Sapne. "I have been a greedy learner. Every experience, every moment teaches you," says Pandit, who is deeply spiritual having grown up in that environment. "I go to temples, churches, dargahs and listen to discourses. My mother is a spiritual leader." It is this energy that keeps him going.

Now that he has moved on to the larger screen Pandit wants to make all kinds of cinema - spoof, romance, comedy and so on. But he is sure of one thing "Sheen will create an impact because it is made from the heart with the positive approach and blessings of seven-and-a half-lakh pandits."

The film is made, but the struggle goes on to return to the roots.

RADHIKA RAJAMANI

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