American caricaturist Al Hirschfeld’s quote that ‘artists are just children who refuse to put down their crayons’ perhaps best describes the idea behind the Koshur Studio. The advent of this new platform in Kashmir is based on the larger abandonment and discrimination faced by the local artists at the hands of Delhi-based media platforms, especially Doodarshan.
For years now, bunkered entrance of the iconic Zero Bridge in Srinagar has been acting as ‘the corridor of creativity’. Just ahead of Radio Kashmir, there exists a parallel world, where artists of faded Koshur TV come together for work projects. Among them are some famed-turned-forgotten characters of celebrated Kashmiri serials of the Eighties and Nineties.
With the fall of Doordarshan and advent of cable TV in Kashmir during late 90s, some of these characters struggled to retain their bygone limelight and plunged into obscurity.
To fight it out, now, many of these artists have come together to float Koshur Studio, an alternate platform for Kashmiri artists.
Hemmed in old private studios of Nawai-Subha complex, that houses Kashmir’s grand old political party, National Conference, the new studio is a small space with three rooms.
In one room, artists discuss ideas. In the second, they record and perform music on the traditional Kashmiri flooring, Qaleen. And in the third room, they edit the audio and video footage.
One of the productions of this studio recently made it to social media, where a scribe-cum-singer, Nazir Ganaie can be seen performing with Shazia Hamid, a reckoning female artist of Kashmir. The number was the remix version of famous Kashmiri number: Yeli Jaanan Raley’m. Netizens praised it as “the departure from the usual”.
But beyond that well-received number, Koshur Studio aims to create a larger artist space in Kashmir.
To give it shape, the artists initially raised around Rs 4 lakh. The investment is being described as the “labour of love” for keeping the studio independent, in order “to revive and document Kashmiri folk music heritage”.
The studio’s motley group of artists—budding and experienced—from all walks of life find “solace” in the small space, that, they say, will one day “turn big”.
Among its core members are noted music composer Prof Muzaffar Ahmad Bhat, prominent artist Zameer Ashai, acclaimed music composer Munir Ahmad Mir, journalist-artist Nazir Ganaie, singer Shazia Hamid, freelance filmmakers Me’raj Bazaz, Imran Farooq, Daniyal Bhat, Javed Ahmad Khan and Ishaq Bhat.
In one of the rooms, the artists are discussing upcoming projects. They plan to document the lives of Kashmiri artists “whom no one knows beyond Banihal”. They also want to compose the mystic works of Lal Ded and Nund Reshi in musical forms, like Coke Studio’s Jawab Shikwa.
But, it’s not mere performing on stages, Prof Muzaffar says: “We’ve to attract the youth and that can be done by mixing what they like—western music, with what we want them to like—Kashmiri folk music.”
This deliberation, interestingly, is taking place near Doordarshan Srinagar, the station which some of these artists know as their launching pad. But in the long run, they rue, the failed station only “failed” them.
“Recently when the artists protested against Doordarshan, someone wrote on social media that ‘no one knows us once we cross Banihal’,” Zameer Ashai, putting up his signature reel face of yore, says. “It’s true that our identity is limited. And for that, Doordarshan is responsible, because we weren’t given a chance. The station failed Kashmiri artists on many levels.”
On December 24, 2018, Kashmir-based freelance producers, directors, actors, singers and extras protested against the way Doordarshan-run Kashir Channel was hijacked from Kashmiris, controlled from Delhi and made completely irrelevant to Kashmiri audience.
In the past, these struggling artists of Kashmir had even approached higher-ups, including ex-Indian President APJ Abul Kalam and former Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. But nothing could lift their gloom.
And meanwhile, to their chagrin, Doordarshan continues to run its “poor show”.
“The programmes on DD Kashir have nothing Koshur about it,” says another senior artist, sitting in the studio. “They play unreasonable low budget films for hours, when they could’ve given Kashmiri artists that space and time. A Kashmiri cannot relate to these programmes. Besides they run and thrive on the old Kashmiri content.”
Notably, some of these artists had kept Doordarshan alive during the nineties, when the station’s chief crew—mainly Kashmiri Pandits—migrated from the valley.
“But what did we get in return,” asks Ashai. “Once insurgency waned in Kashmir, we got either replaced or assigned jobs that we couldn’t understand or do.”
This unprofessional handling—driven by the motto: the show must go on, no matter what or how—eventually proved to be a fall from grace for the station, whose artists were once rated highly in different Indian states, Ashai continues: “Corruption and excessive favouritism marred the station and its professional work culture.”
The failure of such a big institution has now led to the emergence of Koshur Studio, says Nazir Ganaie, who has seen many artists—mostly young and restless—suffering due to lack of opportunities in the valley.
Besides the obvious indifference of New Delhi-based station, the cultural academy’s “failure” to preserve the culture has equally motivated these artists to emerge with this alternative, independent platform.
“If you go on Youtube, you won’t find much content on Kashmiri folk music, because it has not been documented,” says Ganaie, who previously made a documentary on Rabab with Film and Television Institute of India. “This is where, Koshur Studio will chip in.”
But while many tend to blame the political uncertainly for Kashmir’s lagged cultural growth and evolution in last thirty years, Ganaie offers a different take.
“Despite turmoil in Afghanistan, the Rabab Art has been preserved there,” he says. “We can do it, too. I believe, restriction only flourishes art.”
Like this story? Producing quality journalism costs. Make a Donation & help keep our work going.