Memory, imagination, and the camera

Amir Bashir's Harud questions the process of image-making and serves as a counter-point to popular thinking on Kashmir.
ARITRA BHATTACHARYA says the film raises pertinent queries on our journalistic practices. A still from the film
The camera is an aid to memory. The pictures that we take with it become our connections to the past and present. They link us to people and places near and dear, who may no longer be with us, or become the ground on which we form our impressions of places and people distant and far away from us.
Amir Bashir’s Harud probes this very “function” of the camera: its ability to record and preserve, and by extension, to obliterate and erase at the same time. The film revolves around Rafique, a 20-something young man residing in Kupwara near the Indo-Pak border. Rafique’s brother, an erstwhile tourist photographer, is one among the thousands of “disappeared” persons in Kashmir. Like in the case of other disappeared persons, Rafique’s brother’s photograph becomes the only proof of him having existed; it is with these photographs-as-proof that their families demand information about them from the security forces that had picked them up in a past that’s always near and tactile.
Harud opens with “stock images” of Kashmir: passionate demonstrations where the youth rile the sky with cries of “We want freedom”; rallies with flags of Pakistan fluttering in the air; footage of people throwing anything within arms’ reach. These are images we have come to associate with Kashmir—images that have embedded themselves in our collective memory and start playing in a loop every time we hear or see the K-word.
These are images one sees in bulletins of our national news networks. And Bashir’s film, in a sense, is a resistance against these images that stereotype the conflict zone, yet convey very little of the life there. But at the same time, Harud is also a resistance against the other stereotype of Kashmir—that of its exquisite scenic beauty, its fame as the paradise on earth, the place that tourists are now thronging back, once again.
Rafique, the film’s protagonist, is a lost soul who spends his days staring listlessly at nothing in particular, and his nights dreaming about his disappeared brother, after having failed to cross over to the other side of the border. He questions the rationale of his mother’s visits to meetings of the Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons (APDP), till he discovers his brother’s camera in the house. The camera becomes his constant companion thereafter, as he starts working—first as a newspaper delivery boy and then as an office boy in a local news organisation.
The images that Rafique makes with the camera revolve around his daily life, far removed from the stock images that we have come to associate with Kashmir. His effort too is like that of Bashir’s, who steers clear of showing sweeping vistas of scenic Kashmir. Bashir’s frames are tightly composed, and he re-creates stereotypical images of the valley in ways perhaps only an insider can. So, while we see a sikara rowing across the lake, that very typical Kashmir-is-paradise picture, we see that the people on board the sikara are not happy picnickers, but grim-looking security forces. 
Somewhere along way, another startling image floats on the screen: a tightly-composed frame of a sheep, but inverted. Is Bashir referring to the process of image-making here? Is he referring to the fact that since what the camera captures is actually an inversion, it cannot therefore be completely true, completely real? It seems to nudge us into examining our own presumed notions and images of Kashmir, and think, just for a while, before we put out stock images of the Valley in our news bulletins.
Harud raises many questions without saying much—the characters in the film hardly speak; there are long sections that pass off without a dialogue. We hear the rustle of the autumn breeze, the sound of gunfire in the distant silent night. We see the flickering lights along the foothills, the broken shards of glass from a sudden blast, a bleeding friend, and the military hospital.
Among other things, Harud also seems to question what sanity may comprise in a conflict zone. We see Rafique’s father suffering a nervous breakdown after he sees “fear” and “a plea for saving his life” in the eyes of a suicide bomber. He does something that we may recognise as a rare “moment of clarity/ sanity” thereafter that tears his world apart and this seems to question the reference point of sanity with which we approach Kashmir.
The camera in Harud creates a different kind of imagery of Kashmir. But in this attempt, it does not take recourse to creating the usual villains; it does not compromise the politics of the situation, neither does it turn the Kashmir issue into one of purely human suffering. It uses Rafique’s camera to question the process of image-making and in the process, raises questions about our practice as journalists. It points out how at every instance when we choose to put out an image of Kashmir, we do it at the cost of obliterating and erasing a vast pool of other possible images, other possible aids to memory.
It makes us aware of the violence of our practice of resorting to stock images in libraries—images that mention little about the lives, aspirations, and anxieties of the inhabitants of Kashmir. Harud poses questions about how the images that we put out become the bases of imagination of what Kashmir is for a large section of our population. 
Of course, Harud is not “the” definitive film on Kashmir, and of course, it has flaws. But that’s not the point of contention here. Journalistic imagery plays a large role in the imagination of a people living in a saturated media environment. Harud’s value lies in the fact it provides a counterpoint to this imagination.
But perhaps, even this counterpoint cannot escape the anxieties of the nation state. In a sequence where a local editor is looking at a large black and white framed photograph of some women looking out on to the Valley, a television journalist from Delhi asks him if it is Afghanistan in the picture. The editor’s reply, without irony: “Independent Kashmir, 1947”. The irony, of course, is that the word “independent” was muted out by the Censor Board. Is this denial of Kashmir’s independence until October 26, 1947 a denial of truth or an erasure of history?
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