Laugh takes away one’s strength. Laugh gives one strength. Sprinkles of youthful joy punctuate Aamir Bashir’s autumnal Harud (Autumn), completing its meticulous observation of psychology and history in contemporary Kashmir where life goes on despite the extreme tense situation and frequent outbursts of violence, elevating the narrative to a transcendental course where sorrows are inseparable from hope, miseries from beauty, individuals from history. The last film achieving this level of completeness is the veteran Russian filmmaker Sokurov’s Alexandra, a personal story in the war-torn Chechnya. Harud, however, is Aamir Bashir’s debut feature.

Laugh takes away one’s strength, and sanity. Thus our young hero Rafiq always keeps his silence and expressionlessness, whenever he is doing his dead-end odd job, or heroically helps an injured intellectual who just survived an assassination, or hanging out with friends, or helping mother taking care of his father who suddenly went insane in this war-zone. But not since Bresson’s Pickpocket are the silence gazes so meaningful. And just like Michel, Rafiq never ceases his search for truth, on his own terms.

Similar to the rare joyful moments, the minor presence of women in this war-and-politics film also demonstrates where real human strength lies. During the Q&A session, Aamir Bashir pointedly mentioned the character of Rafiq’s mother, who is the true pillar of the family when everything went wrong; and an elusive young lady, the girlfriend of the missing brother, who for Mr. Bashir is the symbol of the lost innocence of Kashmir where the filmmaker left 20 years ago for Delhi and where since became a war zone.

A good film has to be a profound but subtle biography of the filmmaker. And this biography must engage the audience. The camera of Rafiq’s missing brother, who is a photographer, is not only central in advancing the narrative, but also central in mitigating the division between art and life, the artist and the audience. Rafiq sees his world through the camera’s lens; we see with him; and we see Rafiq’s shining eyes from the opposite direction through the opposite side of the camera. And eventually, the lens is non other than the filmmaker’s lens. Few films are able to incorporate the representational and the reflexive so lucidly and flawlessly.

According to Mr. Bashir, the film was shot in a very short period of time with largely a local first-time ensemble and occasional professionals (Rafiq’s father is played by Iran’s Reza Raji). The characters and story are preconceived, but there are lots of spontaneous takes.

For me, this film is a perfect blend of neorealism, epic beauty, rich details and subtle sensibility, so characteristic of the Iranian and Indian art cinemas. If there is any film tradition that is able to defy the dogma created by both Western commercial cinema and the “cinemathequesque” cinema (as seen in TIFF’s “Essential 100” list), it will be either from West Asia or South Asia.

In an interview, Aamir Bashir proudly points out that all the major participants in the making of Harud are new and young. Despite a lack of funds, he believes, this will be the new beginning for India’s art cinema. Indeed.

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