‘Kashmir is like a bruised poem’
We chat up director Aijaz Khan, whose Hindi film Hamid has been shortlisted for the Oxfam Gender Equality Award at the Jio MAMI Film Festival this year
Hamid is a heart-wrenching tale of an eight-year-old boy who goes in search of his missing father. Using his father’s old mobile phone, after trying different combinations, Hamid dials the number 786 and finally manages to connect to a person, who he thinks is ‘god’.
On the other end, Abhay (Vikas Kumar), a CRPF jawaan, keeps Hamid in good humour. These two, unknowingly and unintentionally, change each other’s world for the better.
Just like Hamid, Kashmir has several other stories of hope and despair, comfort and fear, peace and unrest. Aijaz Khan, who directed the film The White Elephant that was well received at many film festivals and recently released Baankey Ki Crazy Baraat, helmed Hamid under Yoodlee Films. “It was a unique idea, I thought about it for a while and decided to develop it into a screenplay. For me, it’s the innocence that stood out,” says Khan. The film has been shortlisted for the Oxfam Gender Equality Award at the Jio MAMI Film Festival.
Here’s chatting up the director:
- How did you discover Talha Arshad Reshi (Hamid)? What are the challenges and perks of working with a child actor?
Finding the right Hamid was daunting. We were certain of one thing — the boy had to be from Kashmir. So Shoaib, the casting director and EP at Yoodlee films, and I went to Srinagar to look for our Hamid. We went to a school and spotted Talha there. His large caramel eyes caught our attention. He had never faced the camera before. Absolutely raw. His auditions were bad. He would fidget and smile through the takes. We rejected him and selected another boy. One day before the shoot, this boy walked out of the film, because he suddenly developed cold feet. Chaos ensued. We called Talha from Srinagar immediately, and that’s how Talha came to play Hamid. I was sure that I did not want him to act in a precocious way. I wanted him to play himself — natural and innocent. So instead of moulding Talha into Hamid, I let Hamid become Talha.
- What are some of the emotions that you have tried to capture and depict through the film?
Hamid’s father suddenly disappears one night and his world turns upside down. To make matters worse, his mother Ishrat (played by Rasika Duggal) goes into a zombie-like existence, looking for her husband, and ignoring her son’s needs. It’s a mix of all these emotions, since all three of my main characters come from different spaces, and are dealing with their own problems. However, I wanted Hamid’s innocence to dominate the rest, since I have tried to see strife-driven Kashmir through a child’s perspective.
- The film also shows the child’s belief in god. In times of adversity, do you put your faith in god and believe him to show you the path, just like Hamid?
During the making of the film, I have pondered over how hope can be a saviour, and can pull you to safety, during times of adversity. A child’s innocent and implicit faith in god, makes you want to do the same. Hamid waits for a miracle to happen, and that’s what helps him to not steer towards despair. That’s a lesson I have learnt during the making of the film.
- What is your comment on the situation in Kashmir?
Kashmir is like a bruised poem. It’s achingly beautiful, but the soul is crying. One hears about the situation from afar, through newspapers and television. The situation is far too complex for me to comment on it or to simplify it. We have shown a Kashmiri child’s point of view, as well as the CRPF jawaan’s point of view, and the suffering on both sides. One has to visit Kashmir to actually understand the nuances of the situation out there.
- Your film has been shortlisted for the Oxfam Gender Equality Award at Jio MAMI, which has the theme ‘Cinema Beyond Stereotypes.’ How does your film shatter stereotypes?
Kashmir is conflict ridden, yet there is hope. Your ‘enemy’ in times of distress may provide succour to you, just as the CRPF jawaan provides hope and succour to Hamid. Through the film, I have attempted to depict the narrative of half orphans and half widows in Kashmir, that hasn’t been depicted before; it’s normally stories of men who go to war and never about the people that are left behind. Besides, I have shown conflict-ridden Kashmir through an innocent child’s perspective. It’s important to bring these narratives out.
- Do you see gender equality in films and the film industry now?
It is slightly better now. Female narratives are finally being explored in the commercial space more than they were earlier. However, there are so many things that you need to keep in mind when answering a question like this — equal pay for instance. No matter what we say today, women are still not getting equal wages, which in my opinion is very unfair. Once we tackle this problem, I feel like we’ll take a step in the right direction. I also hope and wish that more female filmmakers enter the industry.