Bollywood boosts Kashmir kid’s dreams

A school kid from a Kashmir village who sang in Piyush Jha’s just released film, Sikander, dreams of making it big in Bollywood. Hamidullah Dar reports.

Opportunities come unexpectedly, that is why many people are unable to grab these instantly. It can just be one softly knocking opportunity that, if grabbed at a tender age, can change the course of life altogether.
At 13, Mehraj Din Rather was like any other Kashmiri boy – innocent, impulsive and full of small dreams – till a chance came his way to sing in a Hindi film last September.
Hailing from the scenic hamlet Aru in the lap of snow capped mountains, 10 kilometers from tourist resort Pahalgam, Mehraj discovered his vocal talent at the age of ten when he was studying in 5th standard. Appreciation first came from his classmates when one morning he recited a Na’at (prayer song) at the morning assembly in Government Middle School Aru in 2005. Encouraged by the appreciation, he started singing film songs to the delight of his friends who would gather in the evenings on the banks of a Lidder tributary.
“I am fascinated by the scenic ambience of the place I reside at. After school hours we try to interact with tourists who are all envy for the place. Some sing praising couplets in appreciation of the place and I try to repeat those lines to the astonishment of the tourists who shower praise on my voice. It made me conscious of the beauty of my voice,” says Mehraj, his brown eyes twinkling with confidence.
Mehraj’s talent had remained limited to his classmates and his village till Bollywood director Piyush Jha spotted him at Government Higher Secondary School Pahalgam. “Piyush Jha came to our school to shoot some scenes of his film. However, when I was told to sing a Na’at at the morning assembly, Jha was fascinated and requested our principal for its repetition. I sang it again in the full glare of the film camera and it became a part of the film (Sikander),” said Mehraj.
Son of a tourist guide Ghulam Hassan Rather, Mehraj has all dreams leading to Mumbai now. “Piyush Jha told me that he will arrange for my studies in Mumbai, besides, he has also promised to help me in learning music in Mumbai,” says Mehraj, his voice loaded with profound hope.
The teaching staff at the school, however, is apprehensive of the Piyush’s promise. “The film unit promised us a set of bathrooms for girl students in lieu of the participation of the students in the film for ten days, but all proved false as they left the valley without a trace,” informs Nisar Ahmad, the teacher.
Mehraj is not convinced, or he does not want to lend ear to any doubt regarding the intentions of the director. “Piyush Jha recently sent us (him and his father) return air tickets to Mumbai where we remained with him for ten days from July 24 to August 03. I was introduced to many film actors including Hritik Roshan who encouraged me when I sang a few lines of a song before him,” he says.
The young boy says that the director gave his father some money, though he does not know how much. “When I was told that your voice will be included in the film, it was news that took several days to sink in. I have decided to go to Mumbai and learn singing and some music by heart so that I become heartthrob of millions of people,” Mehraj says.
Sudden success has made Mehraj the darling of villagers and schoolmates as well. “Earlier I was yet another boy in the school, getting scant attention. Now my schoolmates have all turned friends who constantly encourage me to take singing seriously which I have decided deep in the heart of my hearts,” he says, casting a wide glance at the school ground where students are scattered in small groups during recess period.
Back home, his mother Zarifa Banoo is all hope for her son. “I am confident, he will become a star singer. Whatever he sets in, he achieves it,” she says.


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