Hamid’s release was postponed after the February 14 terror attack in Jammu and Kashmir’s Pulwama district that killed at least 40 CRPF soldiers. Though the film is nowhere related to the attack or the events that have subsequently followed, that it is based in Kashmir has been reason enough for it to be seen through the lens of what’s been happening in the country lately.
However, Hamid’s director Aijaz Khan requests audiences to refrain from doing just that. “This film does not have anything to do with what you’re seeing today. We are not talking about it or war. Hamid is a film on hope. It is the story of what a boy goes through after his father goes missing and that’s how it should be seen. Just because we have shot in Kashmir, you’re going to think it’s connected? It’s not,” he said.
Rasika Dugal, who plays Ishrat, Hamid’s distraught mother after her husband’s sudden disappearance, says the film couldn’t have released at a better time. “A film like Hamid is more important now than ever because very often in conflict situations, people are grieving and are so hurt that there is rarely a room for conversation. I am hoping Hamid will be the gentle conversation that we need to have in today’s time,” she said.
“Any film can be perceived in ways you might not expect but that doesn’t mean that we stop putting out our work or stop talking about things the way we want to,” said Rasika.
“Everything is being interpreted in so many different ways today that it becomes all the more important to explain your point of view even if it’s moderate or pacifist. It is important that in the loudness of the extremities, the voice of moderation and reason does not get lost,” she said, adding, “If people connect to the characters in a film, then they respond very humanely, which is above all political ideas. That’s the power of fiction.”
Going the film festival way
Before making it to the theatres, Hamid was screened widely in festivals across the world, which Aijaz says has been great learning. “When I completed Hamid, I had little idea on how to market it and take it forward. Festivals show you how the audience is perceiving the film. People who don’t even know about Kashmir could relate intimately to Hamid. The screenings and the reactions helped us decide the course of its release.”
The film sees the entire Kashmir conflict from a child’s eyes and Aijaz says that was the intention right from the beginning. “If the conflict is seen though a boy’s point of view, it’s just given a different perspective. There is a very thin line. We didn’t want to make Hamid a children’s film but we do have a boy at its centre—who is looking and trying to make sense of it all,” he said.
Aijaz found Talha Arshad Reshi—his 12-year-old protagonist—after several rounds of auditions in many Srinagar schools. “We were lucky that we got Talha,” said Aijaz, adding, “We knew we wanted a local Kashmiri kid because we wanted all of it to look authentic. We were also sure that we didn’t want to make him act. So we let Talha be and adapted Hamid to how he is. I think that’s what has worked for us.”
Rasika, too, is all praises for her little co-actor. “Talha has a manner of speaking which is very adult. He doesn’t have the tonality of a child. He is very warm and well behaved, which was an absolute delight because well-behaved child actors are perfect co-actors. They respond to everything you do, notice everything, take it and give so much back, leaving you with so much more to work with,” she said.
However, with Talha, Rasika kind of played safe. She let him break the ice and so he did but by firing one hilarious question after the other. The first was “Humari picture hit hogi?” The next “Kya iss picture ke baad mujhe teen aur picturein milengi?” “I was like yaar Talha, you’re too ambitious for me,” laughed Rasika.
Rasika was nervous about taking up the project and rightly so. Playing a Kashmiri woman is anything but easy. “When Aijaz first called me, I told him I didn’t have enough time to prepare for the role and I didn’t want to do injustice to people who have been through so much already. I asked him to cast a Kashmiri person instead because they’d better understand the grief and the lack of closure of someone whose husband goes missing. But Aijaz was confident that I could pull it off and so I decided to take the plunge,” Rasika said on how she agreed to the film.
On becoming Ishrat, she said, “I tried to do whatever I could in the time that I had. I knew two things clearly—that I really had to work on my Kashmiri accent and I had to be away from Bombay as much as I could. I reached Kashmir about eight days before we started shooting. I spent a lot of time with the women in the village where we were shooting. That really helped.”
“The one thing that became the entry point for Ishrat was a documentary that I chanced upon while researching. It’s Where Have You Hidden My New Moon Crescent by Iffat Fatima. It’s primarily interviews with women whose sons are missing. I also followed Parveena Ahanger’s interviews a lot,” Rasika added.
Featuring Rasika and Talha in lead roles, Hamid released on Friday, March 15.
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