A devastating snapshot of the heartbreak, mental trauma and displacement that pervades the embattled region of Kashmir, Autumn follows the journey of young Rafiq as he struggles to adapt to the rigmarole of daily life in the aftermath of his brother’s disappearance.
Rafiq’s brother Taufiq was working as a tourist photographer when he disappeared without a trace …
Opening with raw footage of the Indian military incursion in Kashmir – which lies in the north-western region of the subcontinent – the film is very much grounded in the stark reality of Kashmir’s protracted military occupation. The feature-length drama offers viewers a rare glimpse into the lives of its characters, who find themselves entangled in the disputed territory’s struggle.
The film commences with Rafiq’s unsuccessful attempt to cross the Pakistani border and become a militant. The audience witnesses his every movement as the drama very slowly unfurls – belying the day-by-day emptiness that plagues Rafiq as he endeavours to move on from his brother’s seemingly inescapable death.
Rafiq’s brother Taufiq was working as a tourist photographer when he disappeared without a trace – joining the hordes of young men that have been forcibly abducted by Kashmir’s military occupiers.
… autumn in Kashmir is a season to prepare for the harsh winter ahead.
The vanishing of young men coincides with the arrival of mobile phones in Kashmir, an event morphing into epic proportions. As opposed to being used as mere gadgets, the mobile phones symbolise yet another way the Kashmiri residents can safeguard their lives.
An unsettling feeling of acute tension is palpable throughout the film. This is punctuated by constant footage of the guns, dispersed ammunition and detonated bombs that impede Rafiq’s life on an almost daily basis. The tension is compounded by the absence of a film soundtrack, except when inconsonant chords act as an accompaniment to Rafiq’s jumbled thoughts.
It is only during jolting moments of violence and trauma that we see Rafiq momentarily stirred from his stupor, emboldened to act as his life begins to resemble a battle for mere survival. He ultimately finds his brother’s old camera and his life is suitably transformed into one with a semblance of resolve.
“There is a Kashmiri expression, ‘harduk zazur’, which means ‘autumnal decay’.”
Symbolism is rampant in Autumn, from the motif of deciduous leaves, to the lamb that occupies the final shot of the film. The imagery of autumnal trees interlaces every scene, serving as a precursor to a cold, dark winter. As the film’s director Aamir Bashir said in a recent interview, autumn in Kashmir is a season to prepare for the harsh winter ahead.
“There is a Kashmiri expression, ‘harduk zazur’, which means ‘autumnal decay’. It is a season associated with decay and slow death. In the film it is the metaphor for psychological decay caused by years of violence in Kashmir,” Bashir told Al Jazeera.
Autumn is the debut offering of Kashmiri-born director Bashir. Interestingly, apart from renowned Iranian actor Reza Naji – who plays Rafiq’s father in the film – all other characters are played by non-actors. The absence of established professional actors and the resounding feel of the film, which resembles an insider’s take on Kashmir, lend Autumn a certain authenticity and air of poignancy that is bereft in many other offerings of a similar nature.
Autumn screened on Monday 21 May at 8:30pm, at Melbourne’s ACMI cinemas. You can read more about the film on its official website.
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