Harud: The story of a soul-less Kashmir
Harud is born out of distress in conflict-ridden Kashmir, that leads our protagonist to search for a better life.
In the 2009 Spanish film “The Milk of Sorrow”, Peruvian director Claudia Llosa attempted to describe the implications of a conflict on the life of children who are born in times of great distress and violence.
The film is set in a ravaged town of Peru in the late 90s when the war between the statist 'good men' (Peruvian security forces) and the 'bad men' (Sendero Luminoso) was drawing to a close, leaving behind a trail of destruction; thousands of war widows, victims of rape committed by Peruvian security forces, and orphans. Ms Llosa narrates the tale of Fausta, a young girl who has contracted a mysterious disease leaving her without a soul; a dark void consistently reminding her of the violence and trauma that the women in Peru suffered during the war, and which Fausta must carry throughout her life.
The film opens on Fausta’s mother who is lying on her death bed; a parched face with puckered lips and open hair showing no signs of revivalist proclivity, singing- no, wailing, for her daughter Fausta who has become a victim of this strange epidemic. The women in Peru believed that the blot of a violated chastity was transmitted through the milk to such children who were breast-fed by their infected mothers, robbing them of the idea of hope and resistance.
"Perhaps someday, you can understand"
Fausta’s mother moans on her bed.
"For what I wept, what I begged on knees, to these children of b****!"
Aamir Bashir’s "Harud", too, is born out of distress; out of the anguish that leads our protagonist to search for a better life in a conflict-ridden territory of Kashmir where fear of surveillance, survival and a limited freedom under India’s rule looms in the air like dark clouds.
The movie is set in Srinagar; the capital of Indian Kashmir, and revolves around the life of teenager Rafiq and his parents. Rafiq’s elder brother has disappeared and the blame is being laid on the Indian security forces. His father, played by the brilliant Iranian actor Reza Naji, is suffering from some unknown mental illness. Rafiq’s family is distraught, disillusioned, like many families caught in the violence. In other parts of Kashmir, the people are suffering daily humiliation of military crackdowns and curfews at unwarranted times. Kashmir has become hell.
But that hasn’t made Rafiq give up on the hope that good times will be back in Kashmir.
An empty mind is the devil’s workshop, or so Rafiq’s mother (Salma Ashai) thinks. She takes it upon herself to keep Rafiq occupied, for the fear of losing another son, lest the security forces take him away, as has happened in Kashmir. She fears that the cacophony of violence that has swept the valley of Kashmir will consume him, or he'll take the route that hundreds and thousands of disillusioned youth did in Kashmir, and vanished. And as Rafiq sets on the journey which will ultimately cost him his life, the trauma of a child born and raised in a conflict comes to haunt him, which, like Fausta, will leave him distraught and pulverised.
The good thing about "Harud" is that it stays away from the politics surrounding the Kashmir conflict and rather prefers to delve on the individual lives which have been brutalised by the two decade long violence (save an odd reference to Pakistan which, Aamir tells me, comes from a sense of disillusionment in Kashmir with the gun culture). For the last two decades, the trauma and violence suffered by the people in Kashmir was blemished by a vicious narrative peddled by the mainstream cinema in India, so much so that the death of dozens of youth in Kashmir fails to meet the nationalistic standards that could lead to express condemnations and calls for justice.
The violence obsessed Indian filmmakers who have overlooked an innocent majority victim population while depicting the conflict of Kashmir, have a thing or two to learn from "Harud".
Aamir has done a good job with the camera. The visual narration of "Harud" is a reminder of magical Iranian filmmakers like Jafar Pinahi and Abbas Kariostomi whose stories of pain and suffering induce a sense of deep guilt and piety that are imprinted in your mind and stay with you for a long time after the movie is over.
Rafiq, too, lingers on in your head after the movie, but just not long enough to make a lasting impact. Here, Aamir has a lot of ground to cover. Dialogues and script could have been much, much better. The soft-paced narrative and abstract story telling might frustrate audiences; particularly in India and Pakistan, where the success of a movie is determined by how famous the protagonist is and how imaginatively he portrays the vulgarity and banality on a sacred space.
"Harud" signals the birth of a new era of cinematic resistance which will go a long way in shaping the craft of storytelling in the subcontinent, particularly in the restive Kashmir valley.
Read more by Jehangir here or follow him on Twitter @Gaamuk