Director: Aijaz Khan
Cast: Talha Arshad Reshi, Rasika Dugal, Vikas Kumar, Sumit Kaul
I have my reservations about the quintessential "Kashmir" movie. In trying to depict the region's Paradise-Burning syndrome, most new-age filmmakers resort to certain stylistic crutches – a foggy Dal lake, a CRPF van rolling down deserted streets, bullets piercing the silent air, a rubab-laced soundtrack, dialogue that sounds like adapted poetry, and most notably, the child protagonist. This isn't entirely new. The eyes of a child have often been used as a cinematic lens to scrutinize – and humanize – history's darkest pages. In most cases, such as the Holocaust, this is effective, because there is only one way to shed light on the atrocities; the evils were blatant, the failure of civilization was unprecedented, and kids became the colours that were being erased out of a stark black-and-white portrait.
But it is ironically Kashmir – a story far more morally ambiguous – that seems to have weaved innocence into the fabric of the conflict as a "template". Much of this is also down to the unique geography of the region. The land and the child go hand in hand – the topography of hills and valleys and serene landscapes is exactly the kind of background image that children paint when they are asked to illustrate their happy families on paper. Hamid, directed by Aijaz Khan, falls into this category, too. In employing a tender view of a brutal time, it tries to tread the very thin line between simple and simplistic.
The film tells the story of little Hamid Ali (Talha Arshad Reshi), a boy struggling to understand the sudden disappearance of his father (Sumit Kaul). His mother, Ishrat (Rasika Dugal), is grieving, too, and is therefore emotionally unavailable to her son, which is why the film can afford to focus on the heart-breaking and unchecked thought-process of the boy. She is too busy making the rounds of morgues along with other widows-in-waiting, torn between needing to see her husband's face and hoping to not see his body. She doesn't notice that Hamid is on his own trip, convinced that he can simply make a phone call to this "Allah" chap to bring back his father. The number? 786. The CRPF-citizen divide is depicted through the presence of Abhay (Vikas Kumar), a tortured soldier whose cell-phone Hamid accidentally connects with. He becomes Hamid's Allah; their conversations, which veer between sweet and silly, define the foundation of the film's broad but endearing strokes.
There is plenty of sad-violin music and stilted acting, but the sheer clarity of the analogies – of mortality, divinity, closure – rescues Hamid in a way that childhood rescues humanity from being a predominantly adult disease. Hamid's father was a boat-maker, a proud craftsman and part-time poet, in effect emblematic of the introspective nature of trauma in a space that both floats and sinks because of its stillness. Hamid's personality raises questions about how young and untarnished hearts grasp the concept of war and peace, of death and religion, from elders who might not be in the position to protect them from reality. Hamid tackles with the boy's "coming-of-age" – with an awareness that the term is less of a movie genre and more of an inevitable condition in context of the forced growing-up that war enforces upon its reluctant victims. Hamid's denial is lonely and self-painted, raising visions of how his father might have been Life Is Beautiful's Roberto Benigni – a man ready to disguise destruction as a fun-filled obstacle course for his confused son.
As a result, the boy's naivety does seem a little far-fetched, as if he were a special character in a movie full of real ones. I understand this film is adapted from a play, which is maybe why it feels like a short film stretched into a feature-length journey. But it – he – is necessary, emotionally manipulative persona and all, because the land often leaves its voices with no other choice. Filmmakers turn to what they want to see rather than what is, to memories rather than moments, and sometimes, there is everything and nothing wrong with that.
Hamid's gaze is also reflective of how we tend to interpret global issues in our own personal language. For instance, a decade ago, just after I had completed a film-making course, a friend asked me to create something around grief in Kashmir. We chose to write a short about a little girl who comes to terms with the death of her brother by seeing him in a caterpillar. We were young, still at a stage in which we didn't fully understand the politics and history of it – and so we romanticized the hard prose of India by hoping to conceive a visual poem. But it is only now apparent that some things can never fully be understood. There was perhaps no growing up from that stage. The caterpillar-to-butterfly metaphor seemed both tragic and transcendent at the time. For children, after all, there is often nothing that separates the two.