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The search for a level field

HOW DO you tell the story of Kashmir in 83 minutes? Ashvin Kumar’s film has an unusual answer — football. Basharat is a young player coached by an extraordinarily gritty couple from South America. He has been selected to play in Brazil. This is his big ticket out of a state ravaged by years of brutal insurgencies and army deployment — except he is being denied a passport to go with it. Basharat’s father, Bashir, was a militant who surrendered and spent years in jail and infamous interrogation centres. According to the unwritten rules in Kashmir, an ex-militant’s family is almost never granted a passport — the quintessential document of belonging issued by a country that claims Kashmiri identity as part of its own.

Through the recollections and interactions of Bashir and Basharat, Kumar refracts the larger story of Kashmir — disputes of history, failure of ideology, brutalities of an all-powerful State and the sparkle of cultural tradition and human spirit that bubbles under. Kumar shows us around the inner chambers of Kashmir’s daily life — rituals of Eid, Wazwaan, gardening and shopping. At a time when Kashmir is over-debated, Inshallah, Football uses sparse dialogue and carefully constructed frames to evoke what slips between argumentative words. Kumar’s camera catches the irony of Kashmir’s physical beauty, the claustrophobia of militarisation, the dread and hopelessness of children born into war and the nuances of relationships. It also filters the inherent joie-de-vivre of youth, even if that flows uneasily with Kashmir’s collective memory of unmitigated grief. After intervention at the highest level, Basharat’s passport finally comes through. Anywhere else this would be a happy ending, but the filmmaker reminds you of the fragility of hope in Kashmir as he signs off. Kumar embraces the contradictions and complexities of Kashmir. Bashir remembers bitter-sweetly the policeman who tortured him and calls him to have a conversation after years. When Basharat’s passport is finally about to come through, he finds himself angry at having to explain why he needs it instead of celebrating.


And a Pandit couple who were kidnapped in the 1990s wonder aloud if Basharat’s father was one of their tormentors while hosting them. Kumar’s narrative is not girded by rhetoric, it is strung together by elusive human stories. There is no better way to understand Kashmir right now.

Originally published in Tehelka.

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