3 odd years ago, we drove into Manipur after a grueling 200 km ride from Mao, which by our calculations should have taken 4 hours at the most, and in fact, took around 7. It was evening when we crossed into Manipur, and we thought we would take another half-hour to reach our hotel in the market. But that half-hour journey took us an hour, stopped as we were 4 times by Indian Army soldiers. Around 8-10 soldiers with guns would stop the car, surround it, looking in through the windows, and our baggage would be checked, while they questioned us on why we had come to Manipur. In the middle of the check, or at the end of it, when they waved us on, one soldier would say, “Sorry for the checking. But it is our duty. Try not to be out after 6 pm while you are here.” By the second check, Dhanno was almost in tears. We were so shaken up by the experience that soon after we reached the hotel that evening, we decided to leave Manipur the next morning. We did not fancy spending our holiday evenings cooped up in a not too fanciful hotel room, and the sight of the soldiers everywhere pained us. We felt foolish to be there as tourists.
For me, ‘Harud‘ (2010, Aamir Bashir) played out that experience in Manipur, let me see from the inside, what it feels to live with the sight of guns, barricades, barbed wire; the sound of gun-shots, bombs, nature and the silences of sorrow and loss. This is not the Kashmir we have grown up watching in Hindi films. No hero cavorts here, no heroine simpers with dimples in her cheeks, no songs of romance resound over the lake.
When Rafiq finds his brother’s camera, he begins to look at the world around him, through the camera. We never see him click a photo. He likes to focus on nature. Perhaps he is looking for what his missing brother saw. Perhaps he is looking for a time which may have been happier, for his family and him. But that is not possible. A beautiful shot of lake and birds is transformed as a shikara floats by slowly, filled with soldiers and their guns.
Rafiq’s more robust friends call him the Ghost affectionately, and negotiate their lives more practically than he does. Sadly, the practicality lies in leaving the state, there is no place for a normal life in Kashmir.
Rafiq’s mother is more assertive than Rafiq himself, refusing to resign herself to the situation as Rafiq has. She belongs to an association of parents who are looking for their missing sons, thousands of young men who have disappeared over the years, picked up for questioning and never returning. Her tenuous faith in finding information about her son, is belied by her distribution of sweet boondi in the street, on the anniversary of his disappearance . She is aware in her heart that her son is dead. As she sits there, handing out boondi to strangers, she is sad, and yet resolute, rooted.
We watch Rafiq’s father, slide into dementia. An upright traffic policeman, proud of his job, loyal to the nation, he seems to have taken in the loss of his older son without much pain. But he is afraid for his younger son, afraid to lose even him. First, he brings him back from the border, as Rafiq tries to cross into Pakistan for militant training, but the sight of a human bomb in a car at the traffic signal he is manning, unhinges his mind, as he seems to think it may have been Rafiq. The next morning, Rafiq’s father, for the first time, forgets to put on his official cap, his wife hands it to him, and then looks at him, as he walks away, puzzled. There is a low hum that seems to pervade the sound-track, increasing our own anxiety and claustrophobia, in a situation that is inescapable.
The film captures the silent despair of the state with long, repetitive shots, sparse dialogue, a quasi-documentary style of shot taking, and acting which is so low-key that you forget that you are watching actors. It is a difficult film to enter, but when we do, we are no longer tourists with a choice to leave, we live here, year after year, surrounded by violence and force.