Imagine this, It’s after dinner. You are playing monopoly with your kids, your husband is watching the news. Suddenly, just as your son is rolling the dice, your main door is smashed open. Masked men throw you to the ground, point a gun at your head, grab your husband and leave. You scream for help. You run to the cops, the politicians, the courts. But there is silence.
No one knows where he is. He simply disappears. Just imagine it.. sounds like a dramatic scene from a movie, doesn’t it? Think again.
This is the twilight zone, which the ‘half-widows’ of Kashmir inhabit. Half-widows. What a cruel word. These women wait for years in the hope that their husbands will come walking back through their doors. They cannot re-marry.. their husbands are not legally dead. Their children don’t know if they are orphans. And the hapless grandparents long for a resolution.. for one moment of a complete family.
It’s not just husbands who vanish into thin air. Thousands of sons do as well. Like Javed, missing since 1990, son of Parveena Ahangar, head of the Association of Relatives Of Disappeared Persons. For 19 years, this brave woman has been waging a war to find her son. She weeps openly, often. But she is a fighter and refuses to cower. “I am not intimidated,” she says, “What is there to lose now? I have already lost everything.”
I’m sharing this with you, because I’m playing a character, loosely based on this courageous woman (long-listed for the Nobel Peace Prize) in a film. And as I go through the research material, the task ahead of me seems daunting.
Just beat it
In a few scenes, I have to portray the strength, fearlessness, wrath and anguish of these women. And I have to be truthful. I owe it to them. If I “perform” for even an instant, I will let them down.
I shoot some scenes in a Bombay studio, but the true test for me comes while shooting in the heart of Kashmir.
It is nearing evening. The light is fading. The pressure of finishing before darkness descends, is high. I am required to lead a procession of fifty local women and children. I quickly instruct the group. I tell them, “Shout the slogans loudly. Look angry. Don’t get intimidated by the policemen.”
Just then I feel a gentle tap on my shoulder. I turn around. Looking at me with the saddest eyes behind granny glasses is this kind, wrinkled woman. “Beta,” she whispers, “My son really disappeared ten years ago. He was taken away in the middle of the night. They would not even let me give him his shoes.” She looks at me as if waiting for an explanation. I stare at her, stupefied. Just then the cameras start rolling. And we begin to march forward together.. this quiet woman and me.
The next few minutes are a blur. Something snaps within me. And I forget I’m acting, Forget the cameras. Forget the crowds watching us. And I scream with a rage I’ve never felt before. I scream for all these destroyed lives. These hopeless dreams. These homes without laughter.
And I scream at the injustice of this world that drives an old woman to act out her wretched life on celluloid, so that she can afford to buy a toy for the child of her missing son.
I hope that my screams echo through this valley.. that someday this world will be a better place to live in..I hope..