Ringtones in the Kashmir valley

Kolkata, December 5, 2010(Calcutta Tube/IBNS) Aamir Bashir, actor, filmmaker does not find his home – Kashmir, beautiful any more. “The Kashmir of my childhood is only a dream now. The careless days in the flowering springs, skiing in winter — they are just a memory now.”

It is the simmering tension that lies just below the surface, the uncertainty and the insecurity that pervade an average person’s life in the valley that have taken over the idyllic beauty, he feels. And that’s what he is trying to portray in his debut directorial venture Harud, meaning autumn.

It was the inaugural film at the Cine Central Film Festival, a part of the ongoing 16th Kolkata Film Festival (10-17 November).

At a Press Conference following the screening in Kolkata, Bashir said that it was the  desperation for  having  a mobile phone of the Kashmiri common people that set him thinking about the film.

Due to security reasons the mobile phone was allowed to be in  the valley only in 2003 when,  “we in Mumbai or people elsewhere in the country were already wondering if one should go for the latest model discarding the old one. But for the people of Kashmir it was almost like a revolutionary step. I was there in Kashmir in 2003 and I saw the desperation of the people. That set me thinking of this story.”

But as Bashir said, the mobile phone is not the story; “what I portray is why the mobile is so very important to the people. Because they  are in need to keep in touch; they want to be certain if a relative who hasn’t returned home is somewhere safe.”

Harud tells the story of the disappearance of   Tauquir , a tourist photographer, and  the struggle of his younger brother Rafiq and his family to come to terms with this loss, something many families in the valley claim to have happened  to them too in the last few years.

The path to militancy seems logical and crossing over to the other side of the border is tempting but Rafiq returns home, though to an aimless existence. Then one day  he finds his  brother’s lost camera giving a new twist to the story.

“It took me four years to write the story but the screenplay is only 55 pages long which I have co-scripted with Shankar Raman and Mahmood Farooqi,” Bashir revealed. He and Raman are also co-producers.

Asked if he is making a political statement through this film Bashir said “I didn’t want to give lectures. For me  it’s  the story of the people, their lives today which is more important and I’m trying to tell it  cinematically.”

Shooting in Kashmir was not easy. Though local people -‘non-actors’, were used (Naseeruddin Shah did a workshop with them)  the team was looked at suspiciously as outsiders, “Both by the people and by the authorities.”
He was the only Kashmiri in the unit and his biggest concern was that the others’ lives were not put in jeopardy because of his film. However,  they were able to pack up within month of shooting and “just after that, the relative calm was disrupted again and Kashmir was in the boil again.”

Though the film has been shown to appreciative audiences at various film festivals abroad, it is yet to find a distributor in the country.
“Being an independent filmmaker in India, as elsewhere perhaps, is not easy. But we are hopeful. I want to show Harud in Kashmir too, to show to the people who worked in the film. But there’s no cinema hall there, so maybe we have to devise some way,” Bashir said.

Bashir is a well-known actor with credits in films like A Wednesday, Frozen, Split Wide Open to name a few. But, he said,  “I have turned down a large number of roles too because they didn’t interest me.”

He admitted that regional films which he saw on Doordarshan when they were regularly telecast on Sunday afternoons, Bengali films, etc. have influenced him and he could not accept mundane roles in mundane scripts.

“Perhaps because I was so bored with them I thought of making a film of my own,” he said.

By Ranjita Biswas

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