In Aijaz Khan’s upcoming film Hamid, the digits 786 play a key role. The number, considered holy in Islam, helps an eight-year-old boy growing up in conflict-torn Kashmir cope with his father’s death.
The film follows Hamid (Talha Arshad Reshi), who, on hearing that 786 is “God’s number”, assumes it to be the direct phone line to Allah. When he dials the number hoping to get through to God, he instead reaches a troubled soldier (Vikas Kumar).
The film traces the relationship between two fractured souls, Khan told Scroll.in. “In his own perception he [Hamid] starts dialing the number and connects to a CRPF [the paramilitary Central Reserve Police Force] Jawan and believes he is talking to god,” the filmmaker said. “The jawaan has been accused of killing a Kashmiri boy by mistake. He is living with that fractured thought.”
Also starring Rasika Dugal and Sumit Kaul, Hamid will be premiered in the India Story section of the Mumbai Film Festival (October 25-November 1). Hamid will also compete for the festival’s Oxfam Best Film on Gender Equality Award. The film will be released on March 15.
Khan, who has also made The White Elephant (2009) and Baankey Ki Crazy Baraat (2015), was looking for a meaningful script for his next project when his friend suggested Kashmiri playwright M Amin Bhat’s Number 786.
“My friend told me a gist of the play in a line, that it was about a boy dialling the number and connecting to a Kashmiri Pandit,” Khan said. “I jumped at it. We started making a story out of it and put in the CRPF jawan’s character to make it topical.”
However, getting a producer on board proved to be a challenge. “While most people say they are looking for new ideas, no one wants to jump in,” Khan said. “I took the script around to producers and most of them did not want to do it because they thought it was not conventional. It was Saregama India [that backed it] and hats off to them for that.”
While the makers were initially hesitant to shoot in militancy-hit Kashmir, they realised that no other location would match up to the Valley’s beauty, Khan said.
“We shot the film in Tangmarg and Dal Lake,” he said. “We travelled extensively for 15 days across Manali, Jammu and Bhaderwah to find a place that looked like Kashmir, but I was not satisfied. That place had its own beauty. The Chinar tree is not there anywhere in India but Kashmir. And these things makes so much of a difference.”
Hamid’s character was cast after much deliberation. Something about young Reshi’s personality clicked. “When we entered Talha’s [Arshad Reshi’s] school, the casting director and I jointly declared that he was the guy,” Khan explained. “We then got the acting coach to work with him. Talha has not faced a camera ever in his life, so forget about acting.”
For Khan, it was important to shape Hamid’s character around Reshi and not the other way around. “I did not want Talha to become Hamid, I wanted Hamid to become Talha,” the filmmaker said. “I deliberately did not think how Hamid would be. If I started thinking that way, I would have to make Talha act and I did not want that.”