An Indian-American director’s debut film has been making waves worldwide and winning global awards, including prizes at the Sundance Film Festival.
The film is set in Kashmir, but people there have not been able to watch it yet.
“Valley of Saints” is a labour of love from director Musa Syeed, whose parents emigrated to the United States from Kashmir.
The 82-minute film is based on the impression that India’s northernmost province made on the young filmmaker after he visited it for the first time as an adult.
And the vision he portrays in the 2010 film seems to have resonated with audiences worldwide.
It has had screenings at several international festivals and is garnering lots of positive buzz, all of which has come as a great surprise to the movie’s two lead actors.
Mohammad Afzal Sofi, a journalist and part-time theatre actor, said: “I got the chance to work in the film by accident. Filmmaker Musa Syeed is my friend and he asked me to work on the film. The film has been screened at almost 30 festivals and won two to three awards.”
He and co-star Gulzar Ahmad Bhat had never ventured out of Kashmir before. Bhat, a boatman on the Dal Lake in real and reel life, had never even been to a movie theatre.
Both he and Sofi were invited to a screening in Germany, where “Valley of Saints” was the opening film at the Hamburg Film Festival.
Gulzar Ahmad Bhat, a boatman and actor, said: “I am very happy that I have been invited to the 20th Hamburg Film Festival in Germany… The organisers have invited me as a guest and I am happy beyond words.”
But there is one place where the movie will have a tough time getting an audience – Kashmir itself.
The film has not got a theatrical release date yet, and even if one is announced, the cinemas in Srinagar have been out of operation since 1989.
“Valley of Saints” is the story of a young boatman with dreams of going to India’s capital New Delhi to escape his poverty and the insurgency.
However, when a curfew is imposed, he and his best friend become trapped in their hometown.
He later meets a scientist who is doing an environmental study of the iconic Dal Lake. As he helps her collect water samples, he becomes aware of how polluted it is becoming.
He also realises that he is falling in love and must choose between two difficult prospects: going to the big city to try advancing his lifestyle, or staying in Kashmir to help protect the lake.
The success of “Valley of Saints” shows that there is life beyond Bollywood for Indian movies on the world stage.
While it has received unequivocal support internationally, it remains to be seen what local viewers will think of it.
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