An untold autumn's tale

Last Updated 13 September 2010, 09:21 IST

Harud, which means autumn in Kashmiri, was shot in and around Srinagar last autumn with a small team of 18 people, with no moneybags backing them, no vanity vans or even folding chairs for people to sit on; no professional actors barring one; nothing but ‘a genuine cinematic story that had to be told’, a film that had to be made.

Unconventional filmography

Lets go back a little in time, to 1990, when Aamir left his home in Kashmir, moving to Delhi to study history at St Stephen’s College. This was around the time the unrest in the valley had begun, something that would change his home forever. In a sense, Kashmir was never home again for Aamir when he went back only for visits, as his career as an actor (Split Wide Open, Clever & Lonely, A Wednesday, The Great Indian Butterfly) required him to stay in Mumbai.

But Kashmir will always be home for Aamir for, as he says, “My dreams are always set in Kashmir.”  Although he rues, “Kashmir is not the place I remember. The Kashmir I left only exists in my memory now. Years of conflict have ravaged the natural beauty and the psychological scars are possibly deeper. Beauty cannot exist amidst so much violence.”
The idea for Harud came to Aamir in 2003, when cell phones were allowed in the valley for the first time, and somehow there was a desperate belief amongst locals that this would change their lives for the better. The idea evolved a bit before Aamir put his thoughts down on paper around 2005-06, spending the next three to four years in writing with his close associates Mahmood Farooqui and cinematographer Shamkar Raman (whose credits include Peepli [Live]).

There were no funds, so Shankar, Aamir and associate producer Rucha Pathak put together some seed money, knowing they just had to shoot the film, which they did last autumn. It was not easy shooting in a place where “people are suspicious of anyone with a camera, believing that no one listens to their voices and that they are always portrayed as violent people,” says Aamir. He along with his team shot for a month, and though there were logistical problems, he is glad that he made the film the way he wanted to, although with limited resources. And when Hubert Bals Fund came in for the film’s post production, it meant not just money but a reassurance that he was on the right track, and credibility for the film.

Not a political statement

Autumn is the thematic base of the film because Aamir believes that Kashmir is in a state of perpetual autumnal decay at the moment. Harud is about Rafiq’s quest for his missing tourist-photographer brother Tauqir and through this family we see the psychological decay happening in the valley. “In Harud, the protagonists struggle to regain their dignity and in turn their humanity, from the violent assaults of the state as well as the rebels,” adds Aamir.

Interestingly, all actors, barring renowned Iranian actor Amir Naji (Children of Heaven, The Song of Sparrows) are first-timers whom Aamir had to teach “that acting is more than delivering lines, it is about delivering the truth. Actors should show by action, not by illustration.” These are perhaps strange lines to hear from anyone associated with dialogue-heavy Bollywood but Aamir’s acting assignments reveal a close association with Indian cinema. And when he has strayed into a full-blooded commercial film like Honey Irani’s Armaan (2003), the results haven’t been that great.

The film’s protagonist Rafiq encounters “the customary trappings of the terms freedom, azaadi, that the Kashmiri youth does” says Aamir. And sometimes it bothers this new director to think of what he might have been if he had stayed back in Kashmir. “Would I too have joined the tehreek (the movement)? Or would it have been a more personal struggle to regain one’s dignity, from the daily humiliation that a Kashmiri goes through?”
Aamir is disturbed by the state of his homeland but his film is not a political statement. He believes that “in cinema, you need to construct the text from the images”, and therefore his film is open to interpretation.

So, is this a personal film? “All films are personal, except for Bollywood films, which are proposals,” he remarks. And will there be another film? “Only if I have a story to tell”, quips the debutant director. “For my bread and butter, there always is acting.” he adds. But yes, he did enjoy directing more than acting as it is a more involved process, and more engaging.

(Published 13 September 2010, 09:21 IST)

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