A loud siren penetrates the heavy air at exactly 3.10 in the morning.
My heart skips a beat. Muscles at the back of my leg twitch with fearful surprise. My eyes open, then close like a dreamy interval. I am not in Kashmir. And this is no ID parade line-up call. It is a simple wake up bugle that the community mosque alerts it’s faithfuls with during the month of Ramazan, in Delhi, the capital of the Indian state. But this slight jolt in my deep slumber is effective enough to introduce an after taste of the film I watched last evening, Harud.
And it is not a pretty flavour. I feel ashamed.
Harud is the season that we all know as autumn. It is the season of decay that comes before winter. Leaves shed themselves from their branches, the sun becomes pale and the wind dry. Degeneration is the order of the day. The film too, true to its title, feels like a constant movement towards darkness. The film opens with passionate calls for Azaadi. The story is of a Kashmiri family whose elder son has gone ‘missing’. The mother is trying to keep alive an elusive hope by attending meetings of the Association of Parents of Disappeared People. The father (played by the iconic Iranian actor Reza Naji), a traffic cop, goes about his daily routine of tea with some bread, getting dressed in his uniform only to stand in the middle of a square and see the traffic go by. The younger brother Rafiq is the one that interests the director. The camera travels with him to the border where he, along with two comrades, are about to cross the line of civility into violence. But Rafiq is taken back by his father to their home, somewhere in Kashmir. Rafiq is a young man who is angry but unsure. He delivers newspapers, sleeps, plays football as an inert goalie, has fights, saves a man’s life, suffers the collateral damage of a bomb blast and also eyes a young girl of the neighbourhood, ostensibly to give her some photographs. All these episodes are interwoven through some beautiful and meaningful camera work. Each frame is punctuated with objects of repression, be it barbwires, guns or military check posts. The sound design reminds me of the many Iranian films that have used 360 degree sound as a prominent character of the film rather than letting it remain in the background.
The story unfolds and the film culminates in an impending tragedy. In the midst of all these happenings, Rafiq’s relationship with extremism is kept delightfully ambiguous, if only to ensure that the larger picture remains. And the larger picture is that of a lost hope for a beautiful people who were once free.
Sub scenes and sub plots make Harud politically relevant and artistically rich; almost like a new kind of cinema that demands critical appreciation.
Rafiq’s friends are a charm when they discuss who independent Kashmir’s biggest competition will be in football; it can’t be cricket crazy India, Pakistan is busy fighting and Afghanistan won’t be able to put together a team. China seems the only real threat.
The only real usefulness of Delhi seems to be that it is a centre for talent hunt shows.
The mobile revolution is a necessity to warn families and friends about a bomb blast here or a shoot out there. The journalist, reporting the euphoria of mobile connectivity in the valley, stumbles in her speech just enough to give the entire event the feel of a shenanigan.
I am ashamed of being a citizen of a state that demands obedience in the name of shallow development. We are like ostriches, hiding our faces in the sand, not seeing the obvious, and harping on false beliefs like India shining and world cup victories. A paradise of beautiful people is being torn to shreds daily while the army men adorn their dorms with crass posters of bollywood heroines. It is high time the seasons change, from long and dark winter to hopeful spring and finally to a free summer.
All Indians must see Harud. It is a masterfully made example of cinema that has the capacity to put its point across without being patronizing. It is great that PVR is releasing this throughout the nation but it would be heartening to see it reach the real people through national television. And for cinema’s sake, I hope Aamir Bashir does not stop with just one film.