Eight-year-old actor Talha Arshad Reshi, the star of the Urdu film Hamid, won the Best Child Actor award at the 66th National Film Awards recently. However, the film’s director Aijaz Khan has not been able to share the news with Talha and his family due to the communication black out in Jammu and Kashmir ordered by the Indian government. Talha shares his award with PV Rohith for Ondalla Eradalla, Sameep Singh for Harjeeta and Shrinivas Pokale for Naal.
The irony of it all. In Hamid, which also won Best Urdu Film at the National Film Awards, the protagonist believes he has a hotline to God, and keeps calling him up from his mobile phone. In reality, Talha, who lives in Kashmir, does not know he’s won the National Award, simply because director Aijaz Khan has not been able to reach him or his family over phone, since the abrogation of Article 370, and resultant communications blackout in Jammu and Kashmir.
“It’s been four days, and he still does not know. I’ve been trying to reach his family for days now, but just can’t get through to them. I’m sure they don’t know as yet, because if they did, his father would have let me know. I know the family so well, and they’d be excited that their little one has won one of the most prestigious awards in India. It’s ironic that in the film, he connects to someone he thinks is God, but can’t reach us or be reached now,” the director told Silverscreen.
The film, written by Ravinder Randhawa and Sumit Saxena, is set in Srinagar and follows the story of Hamid, after his father disappears in an encounter with security forces. Like many families in the region, full of half-mothers and half-widows, Hamid and his mother (played by Rasika Dugal) hear nothing from the authorities. Hamid decides to dial 786 on a phone to reach Allah. It is answered by a CRPF officer (Vikas Kumar), whom Hamid assumes to be Allah. He keeps asking for his father’s return, and the film is about the bond he forms with the officer, and his mother’s attempt to come to terms with her reality.
In an attempt to please God, Hamid lives life by his father’s rules, clearly knowing good from bad, and also learns to make a boat, following his father’s footsteps. He keeps looking for red paint to paint his boat in, and receives it one day, as a gift. Eventually, he and his mother make peace with his father’s demise, and the film is a poignant take on the resilience of the human mind.
When he envisioned Hamid, Aijaz decided to cast only locals in the film, and not get an outsider to play a Kashmiri. That rule was relaxed only for Rasika. He scoured schools in Srinagar and got permission from principals to observe children. The minute he saw Talha, Aijaz knew he had his Hamid. “His eyes captivated me, and the way he looked at me captured my attention.” The film was shot in the holidays so as to not disturb the child’s schooling.
Speaking at a panel in Mangaluru during the Nitte International Film Fest in April 2019, the director was upset at the poor box office reception for the film, but since its release on Netflix, Hamid has charmed many people. That way, the award is a validation of the intent behind making the film. “Absolutely, there are no two ways about it. It is very sad that the audience does not want to spend money to watch films such as this, but I have come to understand and accept that my work will be better appreciated on OTT. People are getting back with feedback, tell me if they liked something or not… I love that they can do that. In theatrical release, you judge a film by the money earned, not by how people reacted to it. The love from Netflix viewers and the National Award have washed away the bitterness,” he says.
Aijaz, who has previously made The White Elephant and Baankey Ki Crazy Baraat, is now working on a web series each for BBC and Hotstar and his next feature. Until recently, Talha’s family was in constant touch with Aijaz and always got his opinion regarding any film offer that came the child’s way. “Now, all I want to do is tell him that he’s won. He’ll be overjoyed.”
Last week, the BJP government introduced a bill scrapping the special status of Jammu and Kashmir under Articles 370 and 35A, and split the state into two union territories. To stop protests against the move, the Centre imposed a complete blackout of all communication lines in Kashmir.