At a time when the interlocutors report on Kashmir is creating a political storm, Aamir Bashir’s Harud quietly makes it way to theatres. It has been a long wait for the actor-turned-director whose first venture has been waiting in the wings for a quite a while despite finding favourable response at several international film festivals. To be released under PVR’s Director’s Rare initiative next week, the film deals with the plight of the common Kashmiri caught between military and extremists. “It is about the psychological damage that the insurgency has inflicted on the people of Kashmir. It is about the daily struggle of Kashmiris to preserve their dignity. The kind of special powers that the Army has got, you can be stopped any time, picked up any time and get hit any time.”
Harud (autumn) tells the story of one such father whose photographer son disappears one day. The counterpoint we often get to hear is that it is part of collateral damage. “I can understand collateral damage if you blow up a building where terrorists are holed up but I can’t understand that you pick up 16-year-olds on suspicion and then they never return home. This is a democracy and you can’t negate the rule of law. I can understand if something like this happens in an African or a South American dictatorship,” says Aamir who spent his formative years in Jammu & Kashmir.
A graduate from St. Stephen’s College, Aamir says his father (retired Chief Justice of Jammu High Court) was a part of the system and always restrained himself from giving out his true opinion. “I drew a lot from my maternal uncle Shamim Ahmed Shamim, who was a Member of Parliament and talked about the increasing disillusionment among the Kashmiris in the 70s. I have dedicated the film to him.”
As long as Bollywood fascination with good versus evil continues, says Aamir, there is a very little scope to expect an authentic film on Kashmir problem. “To me Bollywood makes sci-fi movies with no sense of geography. It has not been able to be true to man-woman relationships. How can you expect it to offer some realistic films on such complex national issues?” The easiest thing, adds Aamir, is to label Kashmiri Muslims as Pakistanis. “You should get a referendum done to reach such a conclusion. Kashmiri are politically aware and they know the repercussions of going with Pakistan.”
Aamir feels everybody has an opinion on Kashmir but hardly anybody has tried to understand its people. “Our engagement has been with the place and not its people. A lot of present day Indians were conceived in the Valley because when their parents were young it was the honeymoon spot of the country.” He says the thought process reflects in the way the State links the number of tourists visiting Kashmir with the normalcy. “The tourism was up in 2008 as well but we all know what happened next. The problem is much more vexed than having a secure Amarnath Yatra and skiing in Gulmarg.” On the recently submitted report of the interlocutors, Aamir says it seems even the government is not in the agreement with the report adding that the problem deserved at least a parliamentary penal.
Trying to putting things in perspective, Aamir says when 8000 to 10,000 people are missing and the authorities are not ready to give their death certificates, the families are living in a limbo. “And when the unmarked graves were dug and the DNA of the remains matched with the relatives of the missing people, it was bound to create further alienation.” He says it reflected in the spontaneous protests on the streets. “It has been 20 years. The kids who were born in 1989 have become adults. It is not just the Centre, the Kashmiri leadership has also failed the people. They are fighting among themselves and it seems they have a vested interest in insurgency to continue. Also, the situation is a reflection of the systemic corruption. When you will declare that you will be rewarded for killing terrorists, there will be some in the forces who will create fake situations. It has happened in the Northeast and the Naxalite belt as well.”
Shot in 2009, Aamir says he had to negotiate on a daily basis. “The locals are suspicious of the camera because they don’t know what ‘angle’ the media will take.” Initially, he wanted to cast Naseeruddin Shah in the role of father but he could not join the crew because of some personal reasons and Aamir had to settle for Iranian actor Reza Naji. A favourite of Majid Majidi, Naji has worked with him in films like Song of Sparrows and Baran . “It proved to be a blessing because the local actors would have not have been able to match the acting of Naseer sahib. Naji came with the handicap of the language. His lines are dubbed. It evened the things. He had to express and the locals, who have lived the horrors were not short on expressions. It is a visual narrative with very limited dialogues and we improvised on the ground. When you have big budgets things become rigid. You can’t change a word but when you are not sure whether you would be able to complete the film or not, things surprisingly become organic.”