Land Of Half Lives:
News footage coming out of Kashmir is full of violence, and soldiers watching over an uneasy calm that could blow up in their faces if they lower their guard.
Aijaz Khan’s film Hamid — that won two National Awards, for Best Urdu Film and Best Child actor–captures the beauty of the state that has been wrecked by militancy. Soldiers face stone-pelting boys and shouts of “Azaadi” but also the guilt when they have to open fire and sometimes hit an innocent. They are seen as the “enemy” by the people of Kashmir, but they are also human, living away from families and mourning their mates killed on duty.
Seven-year—old Hamid (Talha Arshad Reshi) insists on batteries late one evening; his father, a boatmaker called Rehmat (Sumit Kaul) leaves the house to buy them and never returns. Hamid’s grieving mother Ishrat (Rasika Dugal), stoically makes the rounds or police stations and morgues, trying not to give up hope. The incident also creates an invisible barrier between the boy and his mother, who blames him for the tragedy, even as she cares for him well in spite of the financial strain she goes through.
Hamid is told by a schoolmate that his father has gone to Allah; he figures out that 786 is Allah’s number and tries to call Him. (He is a bit too old to be so naïve, but that’s a minor quibble). After many tries, the phone is answered by a homesick soldier Abhay (Vikas Singh), who is taken aback, then amused at being mistaken for Allah, but carries on a phone friendship with the child.
A separatist tries to indoctrinate young boys into militancy and the lure of a trip “to the other side.” It is Hamid’s unshakeable belief in his Allah that keeps him out mischief. There are some moments of humour highlighting the boy’s endearing innocence.
Abhay is so touched by Hamid’s faith that he does try to trace Rehmat, only to be pulled up by his superior officer—he is not supposed to be fraternizing with the locals. The idyll cannot last, Hamid is cruelly forced to confront the reality of his existence. The film—based on a play by Mohammad Amin Bhat, reportedly taken from a true incident– is not a fairy tale; it is a coming of age story placed in a conflict zone, that tries to balance both sides and bring out the hopeful simplicity of the people pushed into circumstances not of their own making. The gun-wielding soldier is as much a victim of politics gone wrong, as the half widows and orphans left behind by the men who vanish without a trace.
Hamid is moving, has fine performances, striking visuals, and makes a plea for peace without waving flags or shouting slogans.
(This piece was first written when the film released on March 15, 2019)