By Mekhala Chattopadhyay
In Aijaz Khan’s film, Hamid, Kashmir is the backdrop where everything takes place in a usual manner. Amidst the commonality of occurrences, there is a family (like many other families) which goes through phases of life, disappearance and return of hope. Hamid is the son, who, after knowing about his father’s disappearance, is plagued by all kinds of questions related to the same. Out of his curiosity, he manages to put a call through to ‘Allah’, who turns out to be a CRPF officer. The story revolves around Hamid’s search for his father and hope for his return, through the friendship that he is able to strike with the voice of the officer. The film has been adapted from a play, titled Phone No 786, by Mohd. Amin Bhat and is directed by Aijaz Khan. It stars Rasika Dugal, Talha Arshad Reshi, Vikas Kumar and Sumit Kaul.
The one thing in Hamid that will remain with you are the calm and curious eyes of Hamid, filled to the brim with questions that most people don’t ask, and those who do are not seen asking quite often in fear of a fate which might shatter their worlds thereafter. Hamid has questions which have no answers, owing to the perpetual disturbance created like ripples on the waters of Jhelum. But there are half-truths, lying all over the place, scattered here and there. Hamid takes up the half-truth of hope. And as long as this half-truth keeps him alive and breathing, everything appears like a nightmare, which will leave your being when you wake up from your sleep. The half-truth keeps him going, restlessly along the waters and the lanes of the valley. But does everyone pick up the same card of hope, laying hopelessly on the ground, with pellets piercing through the eyes and damaging the skin from all sides, all holes piercing through the bodies?
The three relationships – one with the father, one with the mother and the other one with the CRPF officer – provide three different facets of the same reality that is lived in Kashmir, day in and day out. With the father, Hamid has the most loving camaraderie, asking questions and being answered in return. This reality is the driving force of the movie. Getting habituated to being answered for all questions, Hamid loses that pillar of perpetual answers with the father’s disappearance one night. It is at this moment that he is thrown into a deeper pit of understanding the reality of Kashmir and his friends’ opinions about everything. It is here that the relationship with the mother surfaces as an indifferent one, in which she refuses to answer any question asked by Hamid. The numbness of her grief is stronger and more powerful than the questions that she does not (want to) hear. The relationship between Hamid and the officer surfaces as an antidote to the grief, but not to the questions.
The questions like “Aap hai kyun?” and statements like “Aapko koi parwah nahi hai duniya ki?” will definitely ring in your ears as long as you keep them open. This will also put a long question mark on the narrative built around Kashmir, which dangles between hope and disappearance in each moment that it breathes in the dust of explosions and gunshots. Through Hamid, there is a possibility of opening up the ground for discussion regarding the condition of youths in Kashmir. But, who is interested anyway? As long as the scale towards indifference keeps rising in its own pace, Hamid’s questions will have no answers. The film stops here, and that is where Aijaz Khan excels as a director. He does not forge solutions or answers to what exists, but shows what is there, as a part of the lived experience. He does not answer the question whether Hamid retains the hope card through his teenage, and beyond. The discomfort is evident, but not spoken for or against. But we are left with more questions for Hamid, trying to ooze out of our bodies like rashes filled with pus and stubborn enough not to get cured by ointments made of ‘hope’ cards.
The movie does its task of opening the discussion, but what lies ahead of all the half-truths are the lived experiences of not-so-pleasant pasts, presents or futures which the movie captures through the occasional silences of families drowning in sorrow over the missing members. It is also brought to the forefront by the group of boys compelled to watch movies and documentaries presenting unpleasant truths about the soldiers and instilling the need for going against the army, in the boys who are yet to think on their own. The half-truth of Hamid is only one side of the picture and the other side is more horrifying and petrifying than can be imagined. The other side is beyond the mountains; the other side is being a part of the stone-pelters; the other side means to be choosing another extreme. The half-truth that Hamid chooses helps him not to look beyond his self and his well-being, in this world, without dreaming of another Heaven. The half-truth helps his mother to give attention to the child, and appreciate him for his work as a carpenter. Half-truths like these are scattered all over Kashmir. It all depends on what one picks up. Hamid is that romantic hero of a film, who chooses hope over everything else, who loses his father without choosing the ‘revenge’ motif to prove his expertise. At a place he lives in, Hamid cannot afford to become the quintessential revengeful protagonist, but has to surrender to the apparent calm that blows like a wind through the roads, lanes and waters of Kashmir.
Talha as Hamid will leave one stunned as a performer of such finesse. He will make and break your heart with his questions and statements and discussions with his Allah. His spurge of anger at one crucial moment of the movie where he gets to know that he was talking to a CRPF officer and not Allah, breaking open the cell-phone presents the possibility of the other extreme which Talha’s calm eyes pull off like a pro. His surrender to the condition of Kashmir will make one shiver through one’s bones and bring the hard realization of a conflict that does not fade away. His curiosity and conviction remain the focal points of the movie.
Rasika Dugal has the ability to emote without dialogues. At once, she is the indifferent mother which is clear through Hamid’s statement in his letter written to his father, “Ammi ajeeb si ho gayi hai. Meri taraf dekhti bhi nahi.” In the next moment, she is running frantically to police stations in search of her lovable husband who has disappeared. Her sorrow is without questions. Her sorrow is made of pasts that have been and futures that could have been in her own little heaven. Vikas Kumar, who plays the rowdy CRPF officer and whose anger turns into compassion with the progress of the movie, puts on a commendable performance. His dilemma of action and non-action does not look at the army through rose-tinted glasses of patriotism and makes him a human, just like all of us. He tries to protect Hamid from all danger so that he does not choose the other extreme. He is, in fact, the carrier of the half-truth of hope in the movie.
Aijaz Khan moves seamlessly as a director with a story to tell, but not as the father who provides answers. He wants the half-truth to become the predominant truth, but does not explicitly say it. The visuals are a treat to the eyes composing an ode to the valley of Kashmir. With Hamid, we take back questions as burdens lying heavily on the backs of the fragile youth of Kashmir. With Hamid, the answers cannot afford to take sides, but dangle in-between, like flies caught in the trap laid by spiders on an abandoned wall. Thus, Hamid has no truth, but only half-truths, scattered all over the place, lying to be picked up and talked about.
Mekhala Chattopadhyay is a research scholar in the Department of English Literature at the English and Foreign Languages University, Hyderabad. Her research focuses on the aspect of memory and its relation to culture and technology in the Indian context. Her academic interests fall mostly in the field of cultural studies, memory and trauma studies. She can be reached at email@example.com
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