Harud is a film set in Kashmir. The fact that it doesnt play out like an Indian film or a Pakistani film is one of its comments on the state of Kashmir (pun intended). It isnt exactly a fun time at the movies but there is a devastating story being told here. Kashmir was once called jannat (heaven). The characters in the film identify its descent calling it jahannam (hell). Anything could go wrong here at any moment. The inhabitants live in perpetual dread, surrounded by constant danger, anyone looking for a future has one of the two directions to head: north or south. Anything in between is a land of hopelessness where every young lamb is up for slaughter.
Harud begins with footage depicting the ongoing insurgency in Kashmir. Tens of thousands of people have gone missing since the late 80s. Harud tells the story of a family that is directly victimized by this horror. Rafiq (Shahnawaz Bhat) has made peace with his brothers disappearance but cant seem to ward off the wraith that plagues his consciousness. He wants to be a photographer, his only hope to look at the world from a perspective that is not full of gloom. It is no surprise that his friends call him "afsos duniya".
The mother lives in denial and the father lives in fear and consequently suffers spells of delusion. The father is played by Reza Naji who instantly reminds you of the cinema of the Iranian filmmaker: Majid Majidi. Except, this film has very little to do with Majidis cinema. The sensationalism and the sentimentality have been stripped off. It is made in the Italian neo-realist tradition, especially recalling the films of Roberto Rossellini and Vittorio De Sica. Major scenes which a regular film would show to raise shock value, are deliberately given a miss. There are a couple of scenes, which would make Robert Bresson extremely proud. Moreover, there is no music to tell you when to expect a perilous situation or stretch the emotional aftermath. Attention must be paid.
There is a definite authenticity here and you can make great cinema with all of the elements mentioned above, but alas Harud does not go the distance. Lack of information is never a virtue. Complexity can also come with clarity. A film may ask you to pay attention but it cannot side step major plot points wearing the mask of depth. The fact that there is enough power in the story saves it from spurting into disorientation.
Albeit, Harud is a film that deserves to be seen, films like these are important. Visually, it doesnt glorify or vilify the Kashmir valley. It isnt flooded with shots of the magnificent valley and leaves falling in slow motion (few that are there evoke beauty). There is a sub-plot of a character that Rafiq seems to be infatuated by but what progresses is heartfelt and sincere. In a lesser movie, she would be his love interest. The film is directed by Aamir Bashir, an actor I remember from A Wednesday (2008) and a TV show called Alpviram. Thankfully, Harud isnt just a film that raises an issue and expects you to jolt with the impact of its strong subject. It tells you haunting story and makes you watch it unfold in stunned silence.