A dream realised

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From a small role in a college play, Shahnawaz Bhat nurtured dreams of becoming an actor. And a chance workshop led him to realise his dream. Aliya Bashir talks to the young man playing lead role in Harrud.

In the final year of his graduation from Amar Singh College, Srinagar Shahnawaz Bhat played the role of a mad man in a play. It was the annual day function and the play was based on an environmental theme. It was a small role, which, all others had refused to play. But Shahnawaz’s performance landed him the best actor award.

The small role of a mad man changed his life forever.

There were murmurs even before the play that it has been fixed to in favour of a minister’s son who was playing the lead role. The minister was to be the chief guest himself and would have been too happy to give his son the best actor award.

But the way Shahnawaz’s performance was received by the audience didn’t leave scope for any fixing, if there was. The character’s dialogue, “Anim soi, wavim soi, lagim soi paansi,” sung in three different styles became a hit in the college.

Accolades and appreciation from his teachers and friends boosted Shahnawaz’s confidence to the extent that he dreamt of treading the less travelled path of acting, in Kashmir.

Born in 1987 at Meer Masjid, Khanyar in interior Srinagar, Shahnawaz was brought up in a middle class family. He did his schooling from a private school from his locality and in 2004 passed his higher secondary from S.P College.

In 2007, he completed his B.A from Amar Singh College. Then he tried his luck at Kashmir University for MBA but didn’t get selected.

Destiny had something else in store for him. He applied for a two year vocational course of Industrial Training Institute (ITI) in automobiles at Baba Demb. “I am a strong believer of destiny and always keep a back up of things, if other things fail. My dream of becoming an actor never distanced me from my responsibilities towards the family,” beams Shahnawaz.

Besides, his passion for watching movies for hours and reading, he also works on a part-time basis in Rangyul- a bilingual newspaper from last five years as Management Officer. “My father is a daily wager. So I am trying to help him in every possible way. But, I had always kept a vigil to look for the opportunities in acting,” he says.

Shahnawaz says that his engrossments with other fields never deviated him from acting. The support from his family members helped him to chase his dream with more perseverance and compassion.

In August 2009, he got an opportunity to participate in the 10-days theatre festival at Tagore Hall, organised by NGO Anhad. In the screening session, he was selected among other 30 boys for the workshop. Here he was able to get training from Bollywood giants like Naseer-ud-din Shah and Aamir Bashir, the Kashmir origin actor.

After two months, Shahnawaz again participated in the five days training workshop by the same organisers. In November 2009, he got selected for the audition of the Harrud flim among the other 10 boys. “When Aamir briefed us about the film, he announced my name for the lead role, even though I was the least experienced among all. I couldn’t control my emotions and I hugged one of my friends. It was a dream come true,” he recalls.

The film was being shot in Kashmir making him feel at home. Shahnawaz was quite comfortable to work with the crew on the subject he relates with, that too at his own place. Most of the movie was shot in Srinagar with some shots from Pahalgam.  “The shoot was completed in just one month. It was very enthralling experience to start my career with such a professional team which honed my hidden skills. They helped and guided me all along, which made me more comfortable with them,” he says.

Aamir Bashir’s directional debut –Harrud, is set to hit the cinemas by November. The film is a mournful ode to Kashmir where hopelessness and distress engulf common man under the wilting perennial shadow of heavy military presence.

The story is based on the mix of events from the last two decades of strife of how the Kashmiri youth struggle to quench the thirst for “Azaadi”. From mobile phone entry in to Kashmir in 2003, of how it became an innovation and revolutionized the minds of a common man which rest of the world took for granted.

Shahnawaz Bhat, plays Rafiq in the film, who is troubled by the disappearance of his brother. The plot revolves around the plight of a family in Srinagar grappling with the tragic disappearance of a younger son, Tauqir, a tourist photographer who goes missing with the onset of insurgency in Kashmir. Shattered by the loss of his brother, Rafiq makes an attempt to cross the border into Pakistan when an army friend of his father stops him and sends him back to home.

The film further goes on with the tough struggle of Rafiq’s family being pushed into its autumn (Harrud). The script of the film is based on the strong feeling of a valley reeling in constant fear of jittery and turbulent violence.

Representing the life of a common Kashmiri, Rafiq’s life is portrayed with uncertainty and fear from the men in uniform situated at every check post. As the clouds of violence, poverty and a bleak future keep hovering over the family, the autumn permeating their lives unfolds.

Rafiq somehow finds the courage to accept the reality, but his parents refuse to accept that their son is dead. His mother demands her missing son’s body and joins the Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons for the search of his son. Reza Naji, who plays the role of a father also doesn’t accept that his son is no more and suffers a nervous breakdown after witnessing a young bomber blow himself up- adding more anguish to the family.

Caught up in the continuous strife and worried about their future, Rafiq’s friends leave for Delhi for their safety as well as for their future planning.  Unlike, Rafiq who is stuck in a vicious cycle of killings and who life is often punctured by the ongoing violence around him.

From gunshots to bombs, from concertina wires to bunkers with barrel of guns on the sand bags pointing out to civilians  who can barely go two feet without encountering soldiers. All shades of violence have been shown in the film which people in Kashmir go through. All the symbolic representations evoke a sense of dread among the characters in the film.

Interestingly, at one point, Rafiq and his friends see a man seething with the pain of a bullet injury on his belly.  Rafiq saves the man, who offers him a job. He also stumbles somehow on his brother’s camera, which paves him a new path and he ends up as a hawker in the film. “I am sure everyone will love my character.  A common Kashmiri will relate with my role in the film,” he says.

The film tries to provide an account of day-to-day life of a family in Kashmir. “Harrud is a thought- provoking subject of the life in Kashmir with no end in sight of trauma. While playing the role, I never felt any dialogue or action which a common Kashmir doesn’t relate with. In fact, it was a stir-kind of feeling with my experiences as a Kashmiri in Harrud,” he says.

About the expectations from Harrud, that one can have in the backdrop of Rahul Dholkia’s much hyped Lamhaa proving a big flop, he says, “As a Kashmiri, one can be proud of Harrud, the way it is being portrayed. It describes the minute by minute, hour by hour, day in and day out emptiness in the lives of Kashmir’s young men.”

Sharing one of his experiences during the film, he says that the frisking was taking place at one of the check posts on way to Pahalgam which left whole crew of Harrud baffled, especially outsiders. “I was frisked continuously five times in front of my colleagues who were from outside. They got angry and asked a police men why are you checking him again and gain. In reply he said he is a Kashmiri,” he says. The episode was the reality check for the whole team of the film about the excesses by the men in uniform in the name of security.

For Shahnawaz, acting encompasses his innermost dream of life. “I am waiting for the right opportunity to get admission in National School of Drama in Delhi. My passion to groom myself in the professional environment of training would be soon fulfilled with my parents support and the desire to prove myself,” he says.

The cast of Harrud is headed by Iranian veteran Reza Naji, seen in Majid Majidi’s Children of Heaven and The Song of Sparrows which was initially to be played by Nasser-ud-din Shah. But at the end he pulled out due to some reasons. Other important Kashmiri actors include Shamim Basharat, Salma Shabir Ashai, Umar Bhat, Showkat Magray, Mudasir Ahmed Khan, Rayees Mohiuddin, Basharat Ahmed, Mohammed Ayub Khan, Sahil Shafi, Ashraf Nagoo, Haseena, M M Mahir, Ajay Pandita, Shaukat Rashid Wani, Akhter Hussain and Zaffer Hussain.

Harrud, a film of 99 minute duration – A Chasing Tales Production, co-produced by Aamir & Shanker Raman of ‘Peepli live’ was earlier screened in TIFF-2010 in September this year and was much liked by the audience.

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A journalist with seven years of working experience in Kashmir.

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