The team of the MAMI-screened movie Hamid – director Aijaz Khan and actors Vikas Kumar, Rasika Dugal and child actor Talha Arshad Reshi – speak to Team Box Office India about the journey of the film
Box Office India (BOI): What was the inspiration behind the concept of the film?
Aijaz Khan (AK): I was in search of a story idea for a very long time, and as they say, the idea just came to me. A friend of mine had watched a play in Srinagar and called me up. He said he had seen this play in which a boy whose father is missing, dials 786. That one line connected with me and I was, like, we have to do it.
BOI: Did you make any changes from the play to the screenplay?
AK: I haven’t seen the play yet and don’t even know what the play is all about. It was just that one line that inspired me to extend it.
BOI: When you were approached for the film, what was the brief about your role that was given to you?
Rasika Dugal (RD): It was already a very rich script to begin with. When I read the script, I felt it was a personal story of a conflict, a story that we often forget to tell. More often than not, the narrative around conflict situations is very political and we forget to talk about what the people in these situations go through. That was most appealing and that was the brief.
I was very nervous as to how I was going to pull off this role. I felt that about this role and continue to feel that about all the roles that are offered to me. I always feel that I am not prepared enough. But Aijaz was very encouraging and he always said he knew I could do it.
Vikas Kumar (VK): The script was very beautifully written and very precise, so there weren’t many questions. I had the script but my casting was last-minute.
BOI: How did you find this wonderful young boy, Talha Arshad Reshi?
AK: Shoaib (Lokhandwala) is the casting director and he is also the Executive Producer with Yoodlee Films. We landed up in Srinagar and we did the rounds of all the schools. We finally arrived at his school, where they got together all the kids who had participated in dramatics. I think he was sitting in the third row…
Talha Arshad Reshi (TAR): (Cuts In). Second row.
VK: I thought he was a back-bencher!
AK: As soon as we spotted him, we looked at each other and I immediately knew he was our guy. That is how he came on board this film.
BOI: Talha, what was your experience like shooting with everyone?
TAK: It was a nice experience to work with such talented actors.
RD: We haven’t tutored him to say that (Laughs). We promise, we didn’t tell him to say that.
BOI: When you are working with a child actor, are there any challenges that you faced?
AK: Of course there are challenges. Let me give you an example. There was this very intense scene that we were doing with Rasika. I wanted to do it in one shot. I briefed her about it and she was totally prepared for it. I was apprehensive about how Talha would react in that scene and whether his performance would dilute Rasika’s intensity. It is a 4-minute scene and I told Rasika that she would have to take charge of the scene.
VK: I watched it for the first time at the screening two days ago, and I had the same apprehensions. But he was phenomenal and I could see the effect on him.
AK: I told him about the scene and Rasika just started crying and, looking at her cry, he started crying too. Coming back to your question, yes, it is a challenge as you never know what is going to happen next. But look at how he has transformed himself as an actor merely by observing us. He’s picked it up so well.
VK: My only interaction with him was over the phone; we did not rehearse together. So I didn’t know how he would react.
RD: It is a pleasure to work with children as co-actors. At first, I was apprehensive but now I am comfortable. It can also be exhausting, given the energy levels that children bring. If you embrace what they give you, you end up receiving new ideas for your scene. There is so much fun involved.
BOI: Talha, do you have a favourite scene from the film or one that you enjoyed doing most?
TAR: The scene where she (Rasika) is going to the police station. Later, she goes for a protest and I go towards the mountains. I like that scene a lot.
BOI: Did shooting in Kashmir pose any challenges?
AK: I give credit to the production team of Yoodlee Films. We got all the permissions we needed, so there were no issues. It was very good; it is a lovely place to shoot. There were a couple of problems, but that happens anywhere you shoot.
BOI: How did Yoodlee Films come on board for this film?
AK: After I completed the script and took it to several producers, the response I got was who would make this, it is so different. But Yoodlee Films immediately agreed.
VK: I am truly amazed that a studio would reject this script. I mean, they may say take a bigger star in the film, but that producers refused, it is very surprising.
RD: I am no longer amazed at what studios say.
BOI: And the line between content-driven films and commercial films is blurring.
AK: Yes, it is and it is amazing.
BOI: Rasika, you play unconventional roles in many of the films you’ve done. What is it about your skill that roles like these keep coming your way?
RD: I don’t know, actually. I have been open to all sorts of films. I have been open to mainstream films also but those don’t seem to come my way. And when I have been offered parts in those films, they have been largely insignificant roles which have not interested me. I am happily surprised that the films I have been offered have been very good in terms of content, script and people to work with. I have been very lucky that way and I haven’t gone out looking for them, they just happened to me. As an actor, I believe that you attract the roles that you truly, deeply want to do. I guess that’s how it works out, especially since much of our careers depends on chance, as it is. There is nothing special I have done to get these roles.
BOI: Vikas, this is your second stint playing an army officer, this year, after Parmanu: The Story Of Pokhran. How do you distinguish your characters in different films when the premise of your role is the same?
VK: I was working on Parmanu and I was in Srinagar the day after I finished that film, to shoot for Hamid. My main concern was that in Parmanu, I was an officer, a Major, and I had a lot of lines in English. But in Hamid, I play a jawan, a constable. And even though a layman wouldn’t understand the difference, I wanted to make sure there was a difference between the Major and a jawan in terms of body language, demeanour and lingo. I wanted to be a jawan in Hamid, a Major in Parmanu and do justice to both characters, and I think I have pulled it off.
Sure, there is a dialect difference in Hamid, but again, playing an army guy means your physicality has to be upright. Also, since I tend to be a slouch in real life, I had to keep reminding myself every day that my mannerisms needed to be like that of an army man. There is a fine line between the two, and I think I have managed to depict that on screen.
BOI: Speaking of dialect, Rasika you seem to have got the Kashmiri lingo perfectly, as is evident from the trailer.
RD: I kidnapped the line producer of our film (Laughs). He was from Kashmir and I told him he had to do this for me. When you try to get that accent and when you do not really speak that language, you are speaking Hindi in the way you think Kashmiris speak Hindi. And that is a little difficult. The reason for this is that even if the locals say these lines, every second person would say them differently. It’s actually a task, first, to find who you are going to follow. That took a while.
I kept going to Aijaz and telling him yeh aise bol rahe hain aur yeh kisi aur tarah se bol rahe hain and I didn’t know whom to follow. Finally, I decided to follow the person who was our line producer because I also knew that he would always be around if I needed help (Laughs). He helped me a lot with that and I didn’t have much time to work on it but I really enjoyed doing it. When you have a new way of speaking, everything else you do automatically changes. It affects the way you move, construct your sentences, where you break them up, etc. A new language always gives you new things to do.
I also feel that you connect with the space better. It rings true although I don’t know how or why that happens.
AK: (Cuts In) It is really amazing to see that. Rasika came to the location much earlier and spent some time with the locals there and the families she was interacting with. Even after the film was over and Rasika was speaking to them, she had the accent because it came naturally to her by then. That happens when you get completely involved in something.
RD: And I think the music, the language, are really the tools that you have in order to understand a place you know only from the outside. Those are tools you can use rather than anything you might read. I find that a better way to truly understand a situation.
BOI: Talha, what was the most difficult scene for you in the film?
TAR: I remember this one scene which was very difficult when she (Rasika) had to slap me. I was moving my head constantly to save myself from actually being slapped. But Aijaz sir got really angry with me and scolded me a lot. I used to call him ‘uncle’ till that point but from the next day, I started calling him ‘sir’. (Everyone laughs).
BOI: But you never felt tired of being a part of a film shooting?
TAR: Nahi, aisi feeling toh kabhi nahi aayi. I never felt that I did not want to go back to the set. My friends had told me after I got this film, they would not be my friends any more but my fans from now on.
BOI: Were you always fascinated by Bollywood?
TAR: Yes, I would always watch films. I have seen all the movies.
AK: Which film did you like best this year?
TAR: In 2018? I think it is Padmaavat. Besides that, I really liked Sanju too.
BOI: He seems to know his stuff.
RD: Yes, absolutely! The first day I met Talha, Aijaz had left us to do a little improvisation and so we were just chatting and spending time with each other. And Talha asked me, ‘Aapko lagta hai humari picture hit hogi?’ He was tuned in to everything, I thought that tum toh sahi raaste par ho, main hi galat jaa rahi hun (Laughs).
BOI: You have just had your film screened at the MAMI film festival and you are going to other festivals as well. Do you think this festival circuit round will help the film create the buzz it needs before it releases for the audience?
AK: I am sure these festivals help and that’s what the main purpose of a festival should be. It will help and, today, we have options while releasing release a film. It is not mandatory to have a theatrical release; it could even be released digitally. It does help in every way. However, we haven’t yet decided on a release date as yet. It depends on our producers, Yoodlee Films. But I hope it is soon because the festival has created a certain buzz and we want to leverage that.