Aamir Bashir’s Harud (Autumn) was shown at the Mumbai Film Festival in 2010 and only intermittently heard of thereafter. There was some talk of releasing the movie in India – it travelled to several film festivals – but no distributor wanted to touch the anti-coming-of-age story of a troubled Kashmiri adolescent whose brother has disappeared and whose father is slowly sliding into mental illness. Harud seemed destined to enter the category of cult movies that are more heard of than seen. Until, that is, Bashir met up with the good folks at Director’s Rare, a programming slot at PVR Cinemas that gives independent and arthouse movies a minimum of a week’s screen time at the chain’s multiplexes in major Indian cities like Mumbai, Delhi and Bangalore.
Bashir managed to secure a July 27 screening date for a movie that was once refused a censor certificate, and that was passed by a revising committee only after audio cuts were made. (The Central Board of Film Certification objected to references by characters to “independentKashmir”).
Harud is the story of a young man’s autumn of discontent. Political is truly personal for Rafiq (Shahnawaz Bhat), who is seething with repressed rage at his brother’s disappearance, his father’s precarious mental health as well as the fact that the pro-independence movement in Kashmir is going nowhere. But Rafiq is no militant – he fails to cross the border to join a training camp on the other side. He is not a human rights activist or journalist who investigates the disappearances of mostly Kashmiri men and exposes human rights abuses committed by armed forces that are spread out across the state. He is not a fundamentalist, with a clear-eyed agenda of attacking the Indian state. He is merely a young rebel with a cause too large to address within one lifetime.
Bashir, working closely with cinematographer Shanker Raman and editor Shan Mohamed, explores Rafiq’s listlessness by replacing exposition with observation and choosing meditation over drama. Harud explores Rafiq’s interior landscape. We follow him around as he looks for work, hangs out with friends, dreams about his missing brother and seethes over theKashmir situation. The movie effectively and memorably creates a sense of stasis. At the best of times, Rafiq seems to be bobbing at the bottom of a swimming pool, just about managing to breathe, but can’t make it to the surface. Bashir, who grew up inSrinagar, takes us through the making of his directorial debut.
“Why did I pick the season autumn? It’s the precursor to winter and is associated with decay and slow death. I wrote the story in 2005 and sat on it for a long time because I had no ambition or desire to turn filmmaker in those days. I was trying to tell a story based on events that have taken place in Kashmir in the last 20 years. I wrote the first draft with Mahmood Farooqui [the historian and co-writer of Peepli [Live]). Almost everything I knew and wanted to say aboutKashmir was in that draft. The script was written over time, without any deadline in mind. Then I travelled toKashmir with Shanker [Raman, the film’s cinematographer], who came in as a writer. We realised that the screenplay had shrunk to 55 pages. It then seemed doable – we had subconsciously reduced the budget. The whole process of writing the film itself became about shedding, whether it was paraphernalia or the size of the crew. The film was shot in November and December 2009.
“The stillness in the story comes from getting to the essence of the place – the idea is about things coming to a standstill because of what’s been happening. There is stoppage, a forced obstruction [inKashmir]. For instance, there is a frisking scene that goes on for very long and makes viewers uncomfortable. But that is the whole idea – to make people fell uncomfortable. It’s been a life of no prospects for over 20 years.
“You can’t escape the stillness – the sapping of energy is automatic. A reasonably small population has borne the brunt for quite a long stretch of time. The fatigue has set in. There is hardly anybody who is unaffected either directly or indirectly by the violence. In 1989, I was around 19. One of my seniors from school, Ashfaq, became a Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front militant. I leftSrinagarin 1990 to study history at St Stephen’s College inDelhi. I visited once a year, but I would feel suffocated. Each time I go there, I don’t last beyond a week.
“The film is entirely about a mindscape. That’s the way we shot and edited it. I can’t make people understand theKashmirconflict. The fact that what Fariq is seeking is evasive has to be felt by the audience.
“The characters are fictional, but the elements in the movie are present in Kashmiri life. The sequence featuring the Association of Disappeared Persons is from an actual gathering, where we placed three of our actors. We decided to give characters their space. We tended to step back in key scenes. For instance, when Rafiq gives the girl, Shaheen, a set of photographs. The idea was not to enhance the drama in any way. The observational approach gives the audience a chance to engage with the character – it leaves audiences with an open mind.
“I knew I wanted to cast locals. I didn’t want to dramatise the story, so I didn’t want performances. When actors turn directors, the emphasis is much more on the performance than on the big picture. I didn’t want to get into that space. Shahnawaz Bhat, who plays Rafiq – this is what he’s like in real life. His eyes speak really loudly. Naseeruddin Shah was originally supposed to play the father, but he couldn’t leave Bombayat the time of the shoot. Because the character has a mental breakdown, I wasn’t confident that a non-actor could pull it off. We couldn’t think of any actor in Mumbai who could play an older Kashmiri man. At the time, I was working on a film that Iranian director Majid Majidi was to make in India. [The film got shelved.] Through his translator, Ramiyar Rossoukh, we got in touch with Iranian actor Reza Naji [who has been in Majidi’s Children of Heaven, Baran and Song of Sparrow]. He didn’t even know any English and we communicated through an interpreter. What this did was to turn Naji into a non-actor as well.”
Harud opens on Fri Jul 27th at PVR Cinemas.
By Nandini Ramnath on July 06 2012 7.14am