Talented actor/director Aamir Bashir talks about movies, social causes and staying true to oneself.
You had a successful run on television before moving on to the big picture. Why the shift?
I stopped working in television when the daily soap phenomenon started. I never wanted to be in a full-time job. Working the whole month with trashy scripts and those absurd camera movements would’ve certainly forced me to either commit suicide or murder. So I decided to stay home and watch the world go by instead.
What inspired your directorial debut Harud (Autumn), a film on war-torn Kashmir?
I don’t know if it was inspiration or frustration. But there wasn’t really a burning ambition to turn director. It just happened, like acting did. I haven’t had any formal training in either. I was always afraid of being institutionalised. Actually the idea of Harud came out of unemployment. To prevent the mind from rusting, I started discussing the idea I had when I went to Kashmir in 2003 and saw the euphoria for mobile phones, which were being introduced that year. The excitement for the gadget revealed a deep sense of insecurity that people there were living in. But since there wasn’t a plan, it took four years to arrive at the final draft of the screenplay.
The story of Kashmir seems very personal to you…
I grew up in Kashmir and went to school there. I moved to Delhi in 1990 to study History at St Stephen’s College. Both my parents are retired and live in Kashmir. During the ‘90s, it was very difficult for me to stay there for long periods because the place had changed so dramatically. None of us imagined that the conflict would go on for so long. So much has happened in the last two decades, so much innocent blood spilt. I will always mourn Kashmir’s loss of innocence.
How have audiences reacted to Harud?
The response has been the same across the world. It has mainly to do with how little people know about life in Kashmir in the last 20 odd years. What was heartening was that wherever the film was screened, it generated conversation. People didn’t come up to me to say that it was great or poor or whatever. They wanted to know more about Kashmir and what it is like now and what can be done to end the suffering there.
Cameron Bailey, co-director of Toronto Film Festival, has written a very insightful review on Harud. It was the first time we realised we had managed to make a film that had some universal appeal and reassured us that we were on the right path. There are several other reviews both international and in Indian publications which were very encouraging.
Is Bollywood’s rediscovery of Kashmir a welcome trend?
Movies being shot in Kashmir and movies made about Kashmir are not one and the same. Bollywood has always used Kashmir as a location but they were never interested in the Kashmiri story. Tourism is a public relations exercise for the state. The fact is tourism is not the main pillar of Kashmir’s economy. It comes after horticulture and handicrafts. In any case, the issue in Kashmir is political, not economic. No amount of tourist traffic can resolve that issue.
What’s next in the works?
Hopefully it’ll be a mix of both acting and directing. And if I have it my way, I’ll make the films I want to make and acting will remain the main bread earner. I am writing my next film tentatively titled Winter and a couple of acting assignments in films are on the anvil but it’s too early to talk about them.
You’ll soon be seen in Future Tho Bright Hai Ji…
Yes, the movie is about the trials and tribulations of a small-town couple that come to Mumbai to make a mark in the entertainment industry. I play the role of an assistant writer who is trying to peddle his own script and whose wife is a character actress in soaps.
As an intellectual actor, what sort of roles come your way?
Unfortunately, for the last 2-3 years, I’ve only been offered the good cop roles after essaying the role of Inspector Jai Pratap Singh in A Wednesday. I have managed to avoid them so far.
Do you ever see yourself doing action, song-and- dance routines or maybe even a Jism?
Yes, soft porn will be a good break from that khaki uniform with sweaty armpits!