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Walking on Kashmir Files trail, filmmaker Vivek Agnihotri discovers Balochistan

Vivek Agnihotri, director of The Kashmir files (Photo: IANS)

Not many Indian intellectuals speak about Balochistan but when a prominent film director like Vivek Agnihotri tweets about it, it ignites you and makes you wonder why? Vivek Agnihotri is not only an acclaimed film director but also a well-known author, social and political thinker.

India Narrative speaks with Agnihotri—director of the movie The Kashmir Files which created a buzz across the world.

In an online interview he talks about his interest in Balochistan, a possible movie on the region, cinema as a soft power and much more. He exhorts the Baloch community to “keep harping” about the human rights situation in Balochistan so that the world finally wakes up and takes note of Pakistan’s abuse of the Baloch community in the region.

Excerpts from the interview:

IN: You have spoken about the Baloch cause several times in the past. What motivated you?

VA: Initially, I had little knowledge that Balochistan is a disturbed place and that there is a freedom movement going on there but my perspective grew during The Kashmir Files tour around the world.  Every single country where I went, a lot of Baloch people came to meet me – poets, writers and other creative people. And they said, since you have raised the issue of Kashmir, then why don’t you raise the Baloch issue as well, Baloch issue is similar to that of Kashmir. They said Balochistan is one homogeneous region which has been divided into three parts and is being suppressed from all sides with colonization by Iran and Pakistan and by insurgency from Afghanistan.

In this globalized world, the Baloch feel that they don’t exist as nobody cares about them and nobody speaks about them. They say that you have to be a very powerful country or in the shelter of powerful people to be heard – such is the dynamics. The Baloch diaspora gave me a lot of literature and asked for my support. After a bit of studying, I feel that Balochistan is a culturally-rich region that in the past has been ruled by Iranian and Indian empires and has witnessed immense destruction since the time of Greek King Alexander.

It has always suffered at a human level. Ever since my association with the Baloch people, I have developed a deep and meaningful relationship with a lot of Baloch who have suffered and who are working towards the freedom of Balochistan and this has led me to speak on the justified Baloch cause and not for mere political purposes.

IN: Do you plan to make a movie about the issue of Balochistan?

VA: Right now, I am shooting my next film which is on the vaccine and then I will be working on The Delhi Files, but yes, I am constantly reading about Balochistan and slowly getting aware of it. And that is how research gets triggered because somebody says something and then you start searching for the same. Currently, I have ordered some books on Balochistan and have started reading them. I never planned a film and this goes true for The Kashmir Files, The Tashkent Files or Buddha in a Traffic Jam.

I was supposed to be filming for The Delhi Files but because of the covid film got stuck and the shooting couldn’t take place. My mind got engrossed with covid, so I started reading about it and how the vaccine was developed in India by our scientists without many resources which excited me and I thought it is important to make a film on this subject. Balochistan has taken my interest and I have a soft corner for Baloch, so you never know. I mean if Goddess Saraswati wishes, anything can happen.

IN: Why do you think world powers like US, UK, India etc. haven’t paid much attention to Balochistan?

VA: Most human rights campaigns are political fronts for saying something else. The issue of human rights has been used to maintain power balance and are a new weapon of geopolitics. When human rights are only about political or economic or military power then how will powerless nations like Balochistan be heard at all?

Everybody wants to talk about Kashmir because geopolitically it is an extremely important region and everybody wants a pound of Kashmir. Kashmir is surrounded by Islamic powers on one side and communist powers on the other. But nobody cares about the Hindus of Kashmir, who are being suppressed. Any region which is not geographically or politically or militarily or economically extremely important for the world, world powers don’t care about them. I think that this is the reason the media also doesn’t care as the media will not gain anything from it.

The Rwandan Genocide is the best example when somebody made a movie people got interested, now nobody remembers the same. This is the problem with the modern globalized world.

IN: What kind of approach should the Baloch take to highlight the plight of the Baloch and the issue of Balochistan to the world?

VA: It’s a long fight and will take a lot of time, India took almost 200 years to get freedom; it’s not easy. I think Baloch are on right track, they are protesting in power centres like the UK, Germany etc. They are trying to bring attention to people like me and other writers. I would say they should keep harping on the human rights issue because their enemies are very powerful. And the only way they can make people hear their voices is through common people as it’s very difficult to fight the political fight. They should contact people who are not in politics, compassionate people who can connect with them. And once the common people start raising their voices about the Baloch issue, the world will hear it.

IN: Your movie The Kashmir Files garnered huge success. Do you think your movie has changed the narrative on Kashmir?

VA: The Kashmir Files has not only changed the narrative but has also brought positive outcomes for the future. It has also helped heal many victims. Before The Kashmir Files, if you would see reporting on Kashmir only when a dozen people were killed it was reported, nobody ever reported killings of one person here or there except for terrorists being killed by the army. Now, every single day you see Kashmir keeps trending.

After the movie became a success, people from the Congress and all those people called me up every second day saying what have you done for the Kashmiri Hindus, or their rehabilitation or why aren’t you giving them all the money the film made. There were other foolish questions like this.

I am not a social worker or in the government who can make policy decisions nor I can pick up a gun and start fighting terrorists. But this issue of Kashmir has taken everybody’s mind space. Even the international community got talking, from policymakers to narrative holders to newspapers. All the major news publications like The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Guardian etc. have written about it. They may have written negative things or biased opinions and some may have written positive things, but the important aspect is issue has been discussed.

Even the harshest critic cannot deny that this film has opened up the conversation on the genocide, the younger generation which had no clue about this is now aware. They are going to grow up not like my generation, which was unaware of this problem, they will grow up knowing about this, they are going to tell their children and one-day history is going to be corrected. Opinion of Kashmiri Muslim youth has also divided, some say that this movie is perfectly alright and we should do corrective positive actions to bring Kashmiri pundits back into the valley.

IN: How do you see cinema’s use to highlight India’s soft power?

VA: Cinema is the most powerful medium. Sadly, India never used it as soft power. For the first time, we have used it as soft power to show the path to other people. And I think people will take a leap from here and more and more films should be made to project soft power for India, like my next film, which is on the vaccine, it will show the world what India is capable of and how our ordinary people can achieve extraordinary things without having many resources like that US or Europe and yet we can achieve such a scientific milestone.

Also Read: Vivek Agnihotri fights back—slams foreign media for driving a pro-Jihadi narrative about Kashmir

Fight radicalism by spreading the doctrine of Dharma: Vivek Agnihotri in London