Cast: Talha Arshad Reshi, Vikas Kumar, Rasika Dugal, Sumit Kaul Director: Aijaz Khan
Hamid is set up as the tender story of a Kashmiri boy who learns that 786 is God’s number and decides to ask for his help in bringing home his missing father. He gets hold of his father’s mobile phone, dredges up some money and uses the little understanding he has of the world to call on the number. It is a tale of innocence resiliently trying to make sense of the complexities and divisions that mar the adult world. Unfortunately, a bewildering naiveté reveals the portion of the film that precedes his first call—a full hour—which, although followed by a beautifully orchestrated second half, so to speak, distracts from what could have been a wholesome, enriching and educative viewing experience.
From the moment Hamid’s call is picked up by a plosive officer of the Indian Army, you prepare to witness the film finally hit rock bottom. The coincidence connecting the two comes through as a deus-ex-machina, the last gasp of a screenwriter at wits’ end. But when placed in context of the innocence that underscores the entire film and the distinctly human story that director Aijaz Khan fashions out of this scenario, the remainder of the film transforms into a tiny miracle, befitting the aspect of its tiny, inspiring protagonist. Everything—the writing, direction, editing and the performances—undergoes a staggering change and propels Hamid towards the realm of a germane, if not great, film narrative exploring life in Kashmir. The director never flinches from presenting the complex political strands that underlie this situation. Granted, their treatment is near propagandist and laughable in the first half. The cinematic aspect suffers greatly under it. But once the story hits its stride and Hamid and the officer’s exchanges take centre stage, the film suddenly discovers a balance between the political, personal, cinematic and the social, therefore culminating in raptures from the audience.
Harud or Haider this film definitely isn’t. But when it hits its high notes, Hamid manages to resonate with the audience with a keenness hitherto lacking in most films. The MAMI crowd I watched it with will bear witness to the power it exercised when it hit its stride. Perhaps the child protagonist worked in its favour, at once laying bare the essence of the socio-political complexities and making them palatable for a general audience. The earnest effort that underlies Khan’s film and the sheer innocence and resilience radiating from young Hamid’s eyes definitely help too. This is a courageous film. And like many a brave undertaking, its missteps are as numerous as its cinematic and emotional crests.
Vikas Kumar (Abhay) and Rasika Dugal (Ishrat, Hamid’s mother) turn in splendid performances that salvage the film during its rough patches. Kumar in particular is riveting, owning every sequence he is in with aplomb. The film is lifted from its mediocrity once he begins his exchanges with Hamid, in effect bringing the best out of Talha Reshi, the young actor. Their banter is fascinating, devastating, funny and poignant, often all at once. Abhay’s hard exterior is penetrated by Hamid’s innocence and faith in God’s much vaunted ability to do anything. He decides to play the role of God as long as he can without breaking Hamid’s heart which, when it eventually happens, is devastating to witness. We are suddenly confronted by the human toll exercised by petty, divisive politics and a naked thirst for power. Although the separatists’ brand of politics isn’t presented particularly well, Khan does try to include as many voices as possible with mixed results.
The influence of Iranian forbears looms heavy in Hamid. Though it doesn’t achieve the excellence of their best films, a heart-rending and bittersweet poignancy begins to settle in by the time the film nears its end. The scene where Hamid learns that his father is dead and is never coming back will tear the hardest of hearts apart. It does Abhay’s; a man who never believed in the Kashmiris’ cause, who’s witnessed his colleagues fall while guarding a makeshift fortress. I’m certain the scene where Hamid decides to pelt a stone at a passing army vehicle could have done with some astute craftsmanship. It comes across as a damp squib, a grim reminder of the first half.
Hamid is a beautiful story whose translation to the screen is delivered with wildly different results throughout its run-time. The moment it threatens to hit the bottom of the barrel, it is revived in a manner which is nothing short of extraordinary, slowly bringing the film back to life and coming close to living up to its rich potential. Hamid remains the emotional anchor of Aijaz Khan’s keenly felt tale, and the audience sighs, laughs and cries along with him. He forms a bridge between the screen and the audience. Sometimes we take a step or two towards the screen while Khan’s film reaches out to us at other occasions. Hamid, true to its title, remains the little boy’s film. Amidst the endless rumble, rubble, pelting of stones and gunfire, his simple plea rings out like a deafening question resounding in the ears of the deaf and the hearing alike: what have I done to deserve this? Either tired or unable to hang our heads in shame, we break into knee-jerk applause.