The word Soz means recitation of a dirge (a mournful song). Aptly titled ‘Soz: A Ballad of Maladies’, this film follows the journey of Kashmiri musicians, visual performance artists, and poets who stand at crossroads in today’s Kashmir. These artists inspire counter-narratives in contrast to the dominant ones that have ruled the valley’s popular imagination for years allowing the film to develop into a melting pot of Kashmiriyat.
Soz is a distant echo in the sea of meddled voices. You won’t even realize how it hit you until it does; not with violent images from a violence-ridden state but with music. It begins like all stories must: with a conflict at heart. The frame captures guitars and guns in a single sequence. It begins to tell the accounts of a landscape in paradox through art. It took three years for filmmakers Tushar Madhav and Sarvnik Kaur to make Soz.
While the music by Roushan Ilahi aka MC Kash, Bengaluru-based band Parvaaz, the classical and folk music, lend an essential soundtrack to the fleeting scenes of an arrested landscape, Zareef Ahmed Zareef’s poetry and Ladishah recitations transcend the metaphorical walls of prejudice.
The film follows the history of Kashmir in conflict through centuries in juxtaposition with the art forms that rose from resistance. From a myriad of subjects they shot, the filmmakers chose Rashid Bhat (a taxi driver and poet), Mir Suhail (Political Cartoonist), MC Kash (Hip Hop artist), Showkat Katju (Visual artist), Bhaand Pather group, Journalist Anees Zargar, Vocalist and guitarist of the band Parvaaz with satirist and poet Zareef Ahmed Zareef to thread the narrative together. When asked about the absence of other ethnic voices from Kashmir, the filmmakers sincerely said that they didn’t want to include the length and breadth of Kashmiri music just for the sake of tokenism. There will be other storytellers who will follow more voices of Kashmir.
Soz tackles the vast history of violence and resistance with a nuanced yet cautioned approach. There is an utter honesty to the subjects’ accounts that asks the viewer to shed preconceived notions. The subjects wish to be understood at the risk of misrepresentation. The filmmakers have trodden over this fine line of ethical adherence through one and a half years of editing more than eighty hours of footage. They kept revising it after showing the edited cuts to the subjects. Regardless of the looming shadow of regulations and restrictions in the valley that the visuals convey, the voices get their point across loud and clear.
It is hard to imagine a Kashmiri with no story to tell and as the subjects warm up to the camera, their stories moist your eyes, make you laugh, bring out a tinge of surprise and a lot of sadness as you move through their accounts. The filmmakers have put art and music at the helm of a search for compounding truth in chaos. These artists convey sharp fragments of truth in their segments and you wait for someone to blurt out the complete truth that could explain the valley’s conflict.
The film makes you believe that perhaps someone writing, drawing, painting, and singing has all the answers about Kashmir. We are looking. We haven’t found that voice, that brush stroke, that guitar strum yet but we all move through the chaos of Kashmir’s blurry past in search for someone who will tell the truth that we do not yet know. Soz shows us that it is possible to know that truth. For Kashmiris and for those who wish to understand Kashmir, this possibility is everything.
Watch out for Soz: A Ballad of Maladies at film festivals in your city in the coming months. Hear this narrative before the next newscast tells you what Kashmir is.
Written By- Niyati Bhat