Kashmiri movie, made with local cast and crew, premieres in city

Musa Syeed

Valley of Saints won audience award at Sundance Festival

It was quest for identity atypical of 20-somethings that took Musa Syeed to Kashmir after nearly two decades. The Kashmiri-American had not spent much time in the homeland of his parents till 2009. His father was a political prisoner in Kashmir in the 1960s and after setting foot in the US he never intended to go back. But Syeed visited the Valley as soon as he could afford on his own and returned rich with the idea of making his first feature film Valley of Saints.

This Kashmiri language movie, which won the audience award at Sundance Film Festival earlier this year and which has been shown at many international festivals, premieres in India on October 24. It will be screened at the 14th Mumbai Film Festival where it is in competition for First Feature Films of Directors.

"Making the film was my way of reconnecting with my family. I also hope it opened a window to this misunderstood and forgotten place," Syeed says.

From the start, he was certain he wanted to take the film beyond the headlines and give Kashmir a human face. That he hoped to achieve through an unusual love story between a conflict-wary local boatman and a foreigner researching on the Dal Lake. But the unrest of 2010 threatened to put a spanner in his plan.

"When I visited in 2009, there was the occasional hartal, but things seemed mostly calm. Believing that it would be easy to work in Kashmir, I wrote a draft of the script that included lots of locations and characters," Syeed recalls.

However, when he went there to shoot the film a year later, he had to adapt to the circumstances. "I cut down the locations and focused on the Dal Lake. We did not bring the cast and crew from America. I couldn't pretend that the curfew wasn't happening, so we had to incorporate it in the film," he says.

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