Bored out of his wits at his day job, Tushar Madhav began listening to blues music by a Kashmiri band called Dying Breed. He decided to contact them but, by the time he made any headway, it had disbanded and its members were dispersed across the world. Madhav, however, found an interesting detail during his search for them — a Battle of the Bands in Srinagar. His filmmaker instinct was stoked, for the music competition was being held in a venue that was filled with another, darker kind of memory.
The Battle of the Bands is where Madhav and fellow filmmaker Sarvnik Kaur’s new documentary, Soz: A Ballad of Maladies, starts. “Sher-E-Kashmir indoor stadium had been taken over by the CRPF around 1990 and closed to civilians. Now, an attempt was being made to refurbish it with a music competition,” says Madhav.
Kaur is an author and screenwriter of Bollywood films, while Madhav has been an editor and screenwriter of films on art conservation, child welfare and human rights. Soz, their first documentary film, premiered at Open Frame, a festival of short films organised by Delhi-based Public Service Broadcasting Trust.
Soz travels deep and wide through Srinagar, with interviews of poet Zareef Ahmad Zareef, performance artiste Showkat Kathju, ladishah and bhaand performer Gulzar Bhat aka Fighter, poet Rashid Bhat, music band Parvaaz and hip-hop sensation MC Kash, among others. There are detailed shots of bhaand performances, poetry recitals and presentations by the ladishah or the wandering minstrels who, in an earlier era, would act as news bearers and carry information about politics and natural disasters like earthquakes to the corners of the land.
The film intersperses the interviews with extensive shots of the Srinagar landscape, from the famous floating markets on shikaras to shuttered houses and army roadblocks. In the backdrop plays the rabab, women singing and poets reciting their lines. Soz subverts the established narrative by looking at Kashmir before 1947, giving space to the oral history of the ladishah and showing how it contradicts written history that has been approved by the state. “We wanted to get under the skin of the audience that has become immune to the violence in Kashmir and make them uncomfortable and get a debate started,” says Kaur.