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Kashmiri Cinema

Autumn thaw

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SEASONAL CATCH: Most of the shooting was done in autumn to capture the valley's beauty

Kashmiri films have been few and far between. A new film, 'Partav', shot on a shoestring budget by a young and motivated crew, hopes to change that.

As a teenager, Dilnawaz Muntazir would lock himself up in a room and emulate Amitabh Bachchan in front of a mirror. But then he became a dentist and shelved his movie dreams. About three years ago he decided that it was time for him to make a film. So he got together with some of his childhood friends to start work on his dream project. Now 34 years old, Muntazir is looking forward to the release of his film: Partav (Influence), which is also the first film in Kashmiri shot entirely in the 35mm digital format. The film is slated for both national and international releases, starting with a premiere in Washington DC this month.

Muntazir, who grew up in the Kashmir Valley's strife-torn 1990s, say that although regular life was severely affected, his parents ensured he completed his education. But it was cinema and not dentistry that drew him. After giving up his dental practice, he sent his friend Aashiq Hussain Rather, who was into electronics, to Delhi for a film-editing course. Graphic designer Mohammad Younis Zargar was roped in for cinematography.

"Kashmir has no cinema to boast of. Our culture is dying, like our language. Look at Marathi cinema - through it you can easily know what the culture of the state was even 50 years ago. Here, we have nothing to fall back on. We wanted to change that and through this, test ourselves too, " says Muntazir.

Partav, also written by Muntazir, is the story of an English literature professor (Raja Majeed), so obsessed with his literary works that he is willing to forsake everything else, including his wife (Nirmala Dhar) barely six months after marriage. Relationships don't matter to him. In fact, he often boasts that if a person is devoted to a particular cause, he must renounce everything else.

One day, he comes across a young student (who happens to be his own son) who, with his simple questions, shakes up his world. He comes to a better understanding of relationships and the fallacy of his thoughts, and to ease his conscience, he begins seeking out the people he's wronged.

"The film is based on the ideology that a life lived for others is a life worth living, " says the director. "We wanted to give our film a professional feel - a Hollywood-Bollywood look - and not just another documentary. "

With funds in short supply (Rs 40 lakh from their own pockets), the team decided to shoot in digital format, "to reduce the cost, but with good results, " says Zargar. Most of the film's shooting - spread over 22 days in the Valley - was done in the autumn. "Since we were dealing with a rather serious, grim subject, we felt this season would best do justice to it. And through it, recapture the beauty of Kashmir for the world, " he says.

A special effort was made to keep the film local. "People ask if having one well-known Bollywood face on board would have helped us but (other than the cost factor) we decided to work only with Kashmiri actors, " says Rather. Adds Muntazir, "Although we had some experienced actors, they haven't been exposed to mainstream work. Many had to be constantly reminded to not overact, to restrain themselves, tone down in terms of expressions and mannerisms. "

Every evening, after work, each team member would sit down and go through the day's shoot and look for areas that could be improved. "From the appreciation we're receiving on Facebook and YouTube, we feel our effort has been worthwhile, " says Muntazir, who would like nothing more than to see this film pave the way for Kashmiri cinema, which has produced just two commercially successful feature films -- Mianz Raat (1964) and Habba Khatoon (1970). "Cinema, like any other media is essential for any society, " adds Muntazir. "There's a lot of talent in our state that is hoping for the success of Partav. It'll open several doors for them too. "

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