Cinematographer by profession, Tassaduq served as tourism minister in Mehbooba-led J&K govt, and now wants to revive old city of Srinagar.
New Delhi: Cinematographer-turned-politician Tassaduq Hussain Mufti, who served as Jammu and Kashmir tourism minister until BJP pulled out of the coalition government led by his sister Mehbooba Mufti in June, has gone back to the drawing board of his dream project.
It’s a feature film, in the fantasy genre, loosely based on the Rider Haggard novel She, which Tassaduq had read as a child and which he now locates in the beautiful dappled forest in Dachigam on the outskirts of Srinagar. But the forest is being eaten up by the greed of the city and just one man, a forester called Nazir Malik, is trying to stop the plunder.
Does he win or fail? Tassaduq isn’t saying, yet. The film’s concept note has been with the NFDC for three years now. All he can say is that Malik’s story is told through the eyes of his son, after the father is transformed into a bird, a bush warbler. How the son, dreaming about his father, rides on the back of the bush warbler, through the magical forest of Dachigam.
Fantasy, or real life?
With the J&K assembly now in suspended animation, Tassaduq says he has divided his days into two parts.
One part is fantasy and which belongs to the film, while the other belongs to the revival and regeneration of his beloved old city of Srinagar — the Shehr-e-Khas or the special city.
“This is what I really want to do. This is where centuries of history reside,” Tassaduq told ThePrint.
Outsiders would call this the “downtown” as if it were a Third World cardboard replica of some thriving quarter in New York or Los Angeles. But for people of the Kashmir Valley, those who fully believe in the 17th century Mughal emperor Jahangir’s slogan of this being the first and last paradise on earth —“Gar firdaus bar-rue zamin ast, hami asto, hamin asto, hamin ast,” (If there is a heaven on earth, it’s here, it’s here, it’s here), Srinagar’s old city on the banks of the Jhelum river is both hallowed and sanctified ground.
Here rests the shrine of the Persian scholar Hazrat Mir Syed Ali Hamdani, popularly known as Shah-e-Hamdan, who came to Kashmir in 1372 AD. He is the one who introduced Islam in the Valley, which when mingled with the Hinduism practised by the Kashmiri pandits (all Brahmins), evolved into what is known as Kashmiriyat today.
The historic Jamia Masjid, with its majestic spaces interspersed with solid wood columns and its inner courtyard of rose trees, is located just down the road. (This is where the Hurriyat leader Mirwaiz Umar Farooq delivers his Friday sermons.) Numerous other Sufi shrines dot the banks of the Jhelum on both sides, the faithful using the old bridges, eight of them, to cross over and pray.
Entry into politics
A cinematographer by profession, 45-year-old Tassaduq joined the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) on the first death anniversary of his father and PDP stalwart Mufti Mohammad Sayeed in January 2017. It was a traumatic time. Tassaduq had lived several years out of Kashmir, in Mumbai where he was widely acknowledged as the “man with the sensitive camera”.
There was the ‘Incredible India’ ad, a breathtakingly beautiful video on Jammu & Kashmir. There was the cinematic work on the journey of an orphan girl, Bisma, told in the poetry of Gulzar. There were the two films with the audacious Hindi film director Vishal Bhardwaj, Kaminey and Omkara.
Then his father died and he was asked to return home, to give his sister a supporting shoulder. He was inducted into her cabinet on 28 December, 2017.
In the eight months since, the aesthete’s soul seems to have struggled with the demands of everyday realpolitik. Sometimes politics won. Tassaduq watched as his sister dealt with the traumatic aftermath of the rape and murder of a small child in Kathua, Jammu; as she grappled with the hard-boiled reality of several young Kashmiris, some barely out of their teens, willing to give their lives for the idea of autonomy or self-determination.
Today, the city, like its politics, seems to be in a state of suspended animation. But Tassaduq never gave up his obsession with the idea of the city and how it shapes the lives of the people who live in it. For example, he recently filmed the open garbage dumping site, called ‘Achen’, located in the heart of the Srinagar city — nearly 450 metric tonnes of solid waste produced in the city every day is dumped here.
“I have made a documentary on Achen. It is the only dumping site in Srinagar. I have put a rough cut online. These are the things that adversely affect our lives, our water,” Tassaduq said.
People in Kashmir thought, and some openly said, that Mufti’s son wasn’t cut out to be a politician. That he was interested in matters of environment and culture and water, but not in the give-and-take, the hard-nosed and sometimes seamy side of politics that is a byword in Kashmir — the betrayals, the double-crossing, the subtle undermining of governments and very often, their overthrow.
A man who prefers people to politics
Tassaduq is unfazed by such criticism. Politics may have been an accident, but he clearly cares deeply about the conditions in which people live. That is why, he says, he will not just give away his MLC funds but will use them to build sustainable houses for people in his constituency.
He believes his deep-seated interest in environment, preservation of culture and heritage and saving the rivers and mountains, is a manifestation of his politics.
“I am working on creating content for a website where I will document the fine work that me and my team have done in the last two years in Kashmir. It is amazing work done which gets lost in the system,” he said.
“This is not the end but should be the beginning. While we think about enormously important matters like autonomy and self-determination, we lag behind in defining our priorities like the air, water, land and forests,” Tassaduq added.
For example, he wants to build a school of architecture and space design, a performing arts theatre and revive the silk factory in Srinagar.
“I will pursue these ideas in whatever shape or form that I can. I don’t need public office to do so,” Tassaduq said.
His interests are not limited to Kashmir alone. This year his short film, The story of river Kaveri, was shortlisted for the Cannes international film festival. The film focuses on the years of neglect the river undergoes amid the chaos over water-sharing between Tamil Naidu and Karnataka.
In his film, the Cauvery is the river of life, rejuvenated by rain and the calm of the forest, fretting as it is buffeted by the maelstrom of the human condition.
It isn’t the Jhelum, Tassaduq’s beloved river that flows alongside the Shehr-e-Khas, but it may well be. It isn’t a metaphor for the reluctant politician’s life, but it may well be.
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