South Asian Projects

anirban datta

Project Name: How Little Do We Know About Birds

Director’s Name: Anirban Datta, India


Tracing the footprints of an artist’s migration the film tries to explore the in-between narratives of Kashmir beyond the binary the conflict creates.


Tunisian filmmaker Nacer Khemer, known for his Desert Trilogy (1984-2004) said that the global media coverage of the First Gulf War had reduced the image of the desert into a bleak desolate land infested by terrorists. Through his films, he wanted to resurrect the image of desert found in stories and myths of various cultural traditions, about its rich multicultural convergence, filled with stories of love, but never any conflict. An analogy appears as one thinks about Kashmir. “It is not about the conflict. It is not about Hindu and Muslim, it is not about India and Pakistan, it is actually the opposite, it is about love and togetherness…” says Inder Salim, an important performance artist from Kashmir and our protagonist. He and his family migrated out of Kashmir in 1992 and resettled in Delhi. This was the time of the first exodus of the Kashmiri Pundits out of Kashmir valley at the beginning of the insurgency there. And thirty years later here we witness another exodus after targeted killings of Kashmiri Pundits and Hindu minorities resurface in the valley. Sitting at Lodhi Garden, Delhi, Inder Salim talks about a dream he saw, where he became Rasool Mir, a towering Kashmiri poet. But he was unable to find any words to write, only tears came out. Yet it is not about conflict. Some years before their migration to Delhi, as a sign of Kashmiriyat, or a Sufi trait, Inder, a Kashmiri Pundit himself, changed his identity from Indrakumar Tikku to Inder Salim. In this long separation from Kashmir, his land has profoundly merged with his persona and art.

“Migration does not only have the political, social, and economic dimensions to it. It has an artistic dimension attached… It positively fertilizes the seeds of the other territories. So, in the long-term migration has helped any country, especially in terms of its pragmatic move as being human… even birds migrate, how little do we know about birds?” Inder says. One who experiences displacement carries around the displaced land as a disembodied dream, a ghost. And here one sees the possibility of a documentary to film this ghost of Kashmir, a Musafir. A Dastan explored beyond the usual narrative of conflict, by a displaced person reliving his roots and tradition in the larger world. Understanding Kashmir not from the conflict but from ecology, through the compassionate eye of an artist.

Director’s Statement

The film wants to look at the idea of Kashmir beyond the binary the conflict creates. Can a form of the other narrative be imagined? One can see the making of the film as a subaltern introspection, where we intervene in the existing narrative from the perspective of the global displaced diaspora. On one hand, this film deals with the mundanity that tries to take us back to the uncertain margins of a state where there is no immediate meaningful response to the idea of life after resettlement. On the other side, the film incorporates the post-exile relationship that has been developed around his art practice and everyday living in his relocated neighborhood. To sense the source of such ‘positivity’ he carries for all these years in a nostalgic mindful persona living ‘Kashmir’ in an idea elsewhere. With Inder, the film will also get a chance to understand and cultivate the ignored elements around the idea of partition beyond its normative order and embrace the profundity of a transit state.   For us, this journey also shares a deeper intimacy with the subject where the subjectivity is not rigid within the imposed truth about Kashmir but the crisis of existentialism from the ‘post-truth’ reality.

Partition is not an event but a phenomenon. At the time of Indian independence, Bengal saw a partition that resulted in one of history’s worst humanitarian crises. As we have experienced the displacement, can we, from a personal predicament, try to search for the afterlife while a partition is being performed? How profound and far-reaching can the aftermath of partition be? And from the postcolonial time, the subcontinent has been severely fractured, scarred by wars, communal tension, and identity politics. Can we again find the human will triumph? What is actually independence?


Inder Salim is a renowned performance artist I have had the privilege to follow and document for various projects for over five years now. I hope our mutual relationship will help the film creatively explore its large facade in a personal self-reflexive style. The idea of the present film germinated with the systemic deterioration of the political situation in Jammu & Kashmir following the abrogation of article 370 of the Indian Constitution that removed Jammu & Kashmir from the special status guaranteed by the constitution. The second phase of the exodus of the Kashmiri Pundits after the recent attacks on Pundits and other Hindu minorities also marked thirty years after the first one. These three decades is a time, represented by the emergence of Inder Salim’s significant artistic phase since his displacement. He says people want us to be viewed in a singular form as a disputed territory between two countries and so on. But Kashmir is never about the dispute. It is always independent. And in his sense of independence, there is no anger, no rage. He believes Kashmir cannot be restricted by cartography. While organizing the Srinagar Art Biennale he said that artists don’t need to be in Kashmir to perform/organize/collaborate; wherever one can imagine the partition, the struggle, or the conflict, the land will appear from anywhere.

The film’s journey will have three distinctive pathways or inroads to enter working in three layers. In the first layer, the film encounters Inder’s real life at the core. He spent over two decades in the Jhilmil area in Delhi and worked as a cashier in a bank for twenty-five years. Inder recalls how this job helped him own a house through a bank loan. A priceless moment for a displaced family. When I first visited his home, he and his wife warmly welcomed me with tea. Very soon I and my camera was witnessing an abode of Kashmir emerge inside the house through their gestures, his paintings, residues of his art projects. He speaks about his relationship with his community garden, and how touching the rose of the garden transports him to his childhood memory. For bread, he has been going to one particular Kashmiri baker in his neighborhood in Delhi for the last two decades. With Inder, the film travels through time in memory, going from present to past eloquently and creating a personalized web of democratic time. The traces and separation, longing, and trauma, how the conflict has reshaped the path of an artist. Here Inder is not always a real enigma but an unclear, possessed, like ghost from Kashmiri folklore – constantly offering us possibilities beyond the socio-political panopticon gaze of conflict.

The next layer is constituted through the film’s interaction with his close associates, his family members, and his interactions with his old friends. Exploring his physical connection to Kashmir; physically being and experiencing Kashmir with Inder. It can be anecdotal, and memetic in the form of personal accords and experiences. Also, through the understanding of the Sufi traditions that prevail in the mind of the people, in the poems, music, and other forms of art. Sufi is a political tool, of love, compassion, and inclusivity.  Concurrently, as a form of antithesis, the physicality of the conflict, the ground reality, and our interactions with it, that the film will have to directly encounter as the film wishes to visit Kashmir with Inder someday. And this is an unpredictable side of this film, has a certain risky consequence, and the thrill and challenge of a documentary film.

Our journey from Kolkata to Delhi to meet Inder and further to Jammu and Kashmir in fact traces the path of the towering Sufi Saints who traveled centuries ago from central Asia or Iran to Kashmir and all the way to Bengal showering messages of love and unity. This path was also through which came the conquerors and the traders, came a plethora of cultures to shape the subcontinent as what is today. And from the postcolonial time, this route that connects Central Asia to South Asia has been severely fractured, scarred by wars, communal tension, and identity politics. In consequence Western Bengal witnesses a steady socio-economic and cultural decline. Another partition is being performed elsewhere and our protagonist Inder Salim and countless other Kashmiris are facing it. How does our experience of partition help the situation? How does it help us to understand Kashmir today? Through its subject, can the film bring out the larger geopolitics of the sub-continent? A third self-reflexive layer of the filmmaker’s own journey: how and why are we interested in Inder Salim and Kashmir? what is this otherness? A personalized first-person account of the filmmaker will punctuate or interweave various narrative strands and bring in these ideas.

Director/Producer’s Profile

Anirban Datta left pursuing Physics to become a full-time screenwriter. Tetris (2006), his diploma film frrom SRFTI was premiered in Cannes’06. Afterwards he directed and produced several documentaries, which traveled to over a hundred international festivals, and received numerous recognitions including three Rajat Kamal – Indian National Film Awards. Bhultir Khero/Chronicle of an Amnesiac was premiered at Yamagata. .in for motion (2008), supported by YLE, Jan vrijman Fund & Steps India was premiered in IDFA 2008 and traveled extensively. Wasted (2012) was awarded John Abraham Award for the 3rd time, screened at Kochi Biennale 2014-15 — Artist’s Cinema section. He also produced his brother Amlan Datta’s documentary Bom/One Day Ahead of Democracy (2010), supported by NHK, Sundance & Jan-Vrijman Fund, which was premiered at IDFA.

Production Plan

The film is currently in the late development stage, going into the early production stage. We intend to finish the shoot by march 2023 and be ready with rough cut by August-September 2023 and look for further fundraising. And finally, finish the film by March 2024.

Budget (US$)

Research & Pre-Production: 6,500.00

Production 19,000.00

Post-Production 12,600.00

Mastering & CC 10,100.00

Fund Raising at various stages 7,600.00

Publicity Sales & Distribution 10,100.00

Director & Producer Fee  25,200.00

Total 90,805.00

Production Status

The film is currently going from the development to the early production stage. We are also writing and developing the project. At present we have about 15% of the total budget. We are looking for fundraising as well as developing the project ourselves. We have about 20-30% of the material with which we intend to apply for various funding organizations and pitching forums. Dhaka Doclab is one of the first such forums.