Inshallah Football- A review

The anger of the youth in Kashmir has myriad manifestations. What could possibly incense a Dylan-humming, Jacko-clad youth get out on the street and pelt stones? What could be the drive strong enough for a good-at-studies MBA student to hit the road and tread the “militant” path.Oscar-nominated filmmaker Ashvin Kumar, through Inshallah Football, attempts at a hopeful insight into the subject as he probes the pent-up anger in Kashmiri youth.

Set in the backdrop of the ongoing “youth uprising”, the film will unsettle many and could even anger a few. Yet it might hand down some skepticism on to those who believe all is well in Kashmir that something is going wrong somewhere.

The film reminds us that abnormal is normal in Kashmir, and the common man has uncommonly intriguing stories to tell.

The film documents the true story of 18-year-old Basharat Baba aka Basha, a talented footballer selected to play professional football in Brazil. However, the dream gets distant when Indian authorities denied him a passport. The reason: his father happens to be a former militant, a reason enough to punish.

Battling prejudice, as a frustrated Basha goes from pillar to post, there unfold two other stories: one of his father, who believed in his in azaadi and was ready to die and kill for it, and the other of his heroic Argentinean coach Fifa-certified Juan Marcos Troia (Marco).

Marcos and his wife, both attached to Basha and Kashmir, take it as a personal mission to pursue Basha’s case and migrate to Srinagar with their three daughters (Marcos has opened a sports academy International Sports Academy Trust in Srinagar). The family still lives there.

Director Ashvin, whose Little Terrorist is an oscar nominee, appoints Basha as a reporter for a day. He’s already embedded. The government ensured that. He meets a friend whose father was killed by the Ikhwanis — surrendered militant-turned government gunmen (Kashmir’s Salva Judum) used as gun-on-hire to settle personal scores. He also catches up with a Pandit family still living in Kashmir.

With the same disquieting question: “I wasn’t even born when my father did what he did. Why are we still undergoing the punishment?”

Basha gives a voice to his frustration and day-to-day humiliation. He recalls how once, while returning from his practice, he was beaten up by the Rashtriya Rifles, even though he had promptly displayed his identity card to them. The camera stares at a CRPF bunker with grafitti: Respect all, Suspect all.

He also gets his father talking of his days when he crossed over to Pakistan. His father tells him that back then in 90s he was troubled to find around two to three dead bodies on the highway daily. He also describes his ordeal at “Papa 2”, Kashmir’s most dreaded interrogation centre, after he survived operation catch-and-kill in the mid-nineties. (That’s now a minister’s house.)

Interestingly, we don’t miss a voiceover as the characters are allowed to speak for themselves in the film, which is an outcome of incredible co-incidences. Even while shooting, Basha’s pursuit gets into The Indian Express newspaper, chief minister Omer Abdullah reads it, takes an account, and makes a phone call. Basha’s passport arrives soon.

Interestingly, Basha and friend are otherwise a “normal” youth who love football and have girlfriends.

Ashvin has used the conventional technique in documentary filmmaking as he has managed to get as “real” people talk. The chief ministers agrees on camera that there will be many youngsters like Basha in Kashmir, who may be struggling in their own ways.

The thought-provoking documentary has some stirring narratives. I am from Kashmir, and I have seen from too close what Ashvin is dealing with, and talking about. I must confess, a few tears escaped my eyes.

The film ends with a warning: if the grievances of the present generation aren’t addressed, they may end up taking up arms, and if they do so, it’s going to be a catastrophe.

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