'Hamid': Film Review | Palm Springs 2019
Aijaz Khan’s third feature portrays the ongoing ethnic conflict in northern India with sensitivity and quiet humor.
The northern Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir has been the scene of ongoing conflict since even before India’s independence from the U.K. in 1947. Continuing unrest has led to a heavy paramilitary presence throughout the region and particularly in the predominantly Muslim capital of Srinagar, where director Aijaz Khan sets the action for Hamid. A small-scale drama that takes on some weighty historical, political and cultural issues, Khan’s feature promises to engage both children and adults with an involving narrative and authentic performances, providing a sympathetic perspective on an often harshly portrayed conflict zone.
For eight-year-old Hamid (Talha Arshad Reshi), the reality of ethnic conflict in his lakeside hometown of Srinagar becomes all-too clear with the sudden disappearance of his father, Rehmat (Sumit Kaul). A skilled boat-builder, Hamid’s dad vanishes one night after an encounter with a security patrol while on an errand to placate Hamid, who’s taking advantage of his status as an only child and behaving selfishly.
Like many Muslim families in the Kashmir region, Hamid and his mother, Ishrat (Rasika Dugal), hear nothing from the authorities after Rehmat’s disappearance. When she files a missing persons report with the local police station, a dismissive Indian officer tells her to get in line with all of the other people seeking their missing husbands, fathers, brothers, uncles or nephews. Tired of Hamid’s questions but reluctant to disclose the truth, Ishrat tells her son that Rehmat has gone to help Allah.
Not particularly familiar with religious concepts, Hamid takes her statement literally, whereas his more devout acquaintances tell the boy that her explanation means that his father is probably dead. Hamid refuses to believe them however and searches instead for a way to persuade God to send his father home. Learning that the digits 786 represents Allah’s number, he comes up with the idea of calling God on the mobile phone his father left behind, but dials unsuccessfully until he hits upon an iteration of the number that connects his call. Unsurprised to hear someone answering who fulfills his idea of divinity, Hamid doesn’t realize that he’s reached the number of Abhay (Vikas Kumar), an Indian police officer stationed in Srinagar on an anti-terrorism detail.
Khan’s pairing of an innocent Muslim child with a Hindu adult impersonating God might at first seem like a provocation, perhaps suggesting that India’s dominant ethnic group wields power over minority populations. Abhay, however, is hardly in control of his own destiny. Separated from his family for nearly two years while stationed at a remote provincial outpost, he’s also been emotionally traumatized by his role in the accidental killing of a local child during a security operation.
So for Abhay, the continuing calls from Hamid come almost as a challenge to his battered sense of humanity, perhaps offering a tenuous chance at redemption. For Khan they also present the opportunity to introduce some understated humor, as Hamid imagines himself speaking earnestly to God while Abhay ineptly improvises in an attempt to make a dignified impression upon the child. The details of military dominance in Jammu and Kashmir aren’t glossed over in Khan’s account however, which features realistic depictions of Muslim street protests and the attendant security response, often putting Abhay on the front lines confronting rock-throwing demonstrators.
Kumar strikes a relatable balance between Abhay’s privileged outrage over these escalating attacks and his emerging sympathy for the plight of the marginalized locals. Nonpro Reshi adopts a bit of an overly serious attitude toward Hamid’s struggles, rarely evincing even a youthful smile, but wins points for his affecting portrayal of a boy’s loyalty to his father and determination to confront even the will of God to make his family whole again.
Production companies: Saregama Films, Yoodlee Films
Cast: Vikas Kumar, Sumit Kaul, Talha Arshad Reshi, Rasika Dugal
Director: Aijaz Khan
Screenwriter: Ravinder Radhva
Producers: Siddharth Anand Kumar, Vikram Mehra
Executive producers: Shoaib Lokhandwala, Guneet Monga, Gaurav Sharma, Sahil Sharma
Director of photography: John Wilmor
Production designers: Sikander Ahmad, Shamim Khan
Costume designer: Manish Tiwari
Editor: Afzal Shaikh
Music: Andrew T. McKay
Venue: Palm Springs International Film Festival