Initial alarm over the seemingly childish premise of Aijaz Khan’s Hamid – a fatherless Kashmiri boy strikes up a connection with a Central Reserve Police Force jawan whom he believes to be God – dissipates quickly. Hamid, based on the play 786 by Mohammed Amin Bhat and a screenplay by Rajinder Randhawa, lobs weighty questions over the tender shoulders of its seven-year-old lead character. Is redemption possible when the seeker represents the enemy? Can there be dialogue between intractable foes? If there indeed such a thing as God, and if the answer is in the affirmative, why do the faithful feel bereft?

Abandonment works in more ways than one in Hamid. The opening sequences of Khan’s 120-minute film beautifully set up the tragedy that stalks the apple-cheeked Hamid and, by extension, Kashmir. Rehmat (Sumit Kaul), a loving father and builder of boats, is nagged by his son one night to get him that one thing that he wants right now. Since this is Kashmir, where normalcy has long since ceased to exist, Rehmat disappears into the darkness, only to return as painful flashbacks.

A year after Rehmat’s sudden disappearance, his wife Ishrat (Rasika Dugal) is a bundle of nerves, veering between catatonia and despair. Ishrat is so wrapped up in her grief that she neglects her son, who seeks refuge in faith. Working on the recently acquired knowledge that Allah solves everything, the rudderless boy gets his hands on a cellphone and dials a phone number that contains the digits 786, the numerical representation of the Arabic phrase Bismillah al-Rahman al-Rahim that praises Allah.

That call goes through to CRPF jawan Abhay (Vikas Kumar), who is seething with guilt over having been too trigger-happy on the job. Despite Hamid’s frequent implorations to the One Above, it is clear that the solutions to Kashmir lie on Earth, among mortals. The lack of dialogue between Kashmiris and ruling forces has converted the paradise on Earth into a living hell. In Hamid, the conversations between Abhay and Hamid suggest that for a semblance of peace and justice to return, at least one side needs to pick up the phone.

Hamid (2018).

Hamid balances the simplistic nature of the boy’s quest, and his innocent and yet piercing questions to Abhay, with the all-too-adult problems that Abhay and Ishrat have to grapple with. Abhay is considerably humanised – he has a family he hasn’t seen in over a year – and the war of attrition that claims his buddies as scalps is depicted without creating a false equivalence between his guilt and Hamid’s plight.

Less successful is a track revolving around Abbas (Mir Sarwar), a local fundamentalist who preys on fatherless boys such as Hamid. The scenes involving Abbas’s attempts at indoctrination are clumsy, and strike a false note in an otherwise nuanced exploration of what it means to live with unremitting devastation.

The unhurried pacing too sometimes works against the narrative, but it does allow its actors the freedom to fully inhabit their characters. Sumit Kaul, as Rehmat, has a lump-in-the-throat flashback to happier times with his son. Both Talha Arshad Reshi, as Hamid, and Vikas Kumar, as Abhay, are in solid form. The film’s knockout performance is by Rasika Dugal, one of the finest actors of her generation. Dugal is a highly sensitive performer with an ability to convey volcanic emotions with a mere facial flicker. In Hamid, she is terrific as a wife and mother who struggles to keep her life on track.

Ishrat also delivers the movie’s most shattering takeaway: resignation is a necessary coping mechanism in present-day Kashmir. The movie is named after its knee-high hero, but the weight of its tragedy is actually conveyed with precision and devastation by Dugal’s Ishrat. Hamid’s campaign to reclaim his father is the stuff of childish fantasy. Ishrat’s fraught condition and Abhay’s stoic acceptance of his assignment take the film into a territory more familiar to followers of the news on Kashmir. The movie balances simplicity and profundity, and would have benefited from a leaner running time to better convey its ambitious exploration of loss and abandonment in a region stereotyped as a paradise on earth.

Rasika Dugal in Hamid. Courtesy Yoodlee Films.