Chalo America director Piyush Jha is now ready with Sikandar, a serious film on militancy in Jammu and Kashmir, and says it will clear the myth that youngsters in the valley want to be terrorists.
"We would shudder if any of our friends suggested going for a holiday to Kashmir. We would dismiss Kashmir as a 'problem'; someone else's problem. I want to show that the average Kashmiri has absolutely the same aspirations as the average person from Bihar, Andhra Pradesh or Maharashtra, that is, upward mobility," Jha told IANS.
"The average Kashmiri kid wants to be a doctor or lawyer or stars like Shah Rukh Khan or Sachin Tendulkar. He wants the latest MP3 players, hi-speed broadband, and wants to take part in reality shows.
"In other words, the average young person is not oiling his AK-47 for the next strike, but is waiting for the rest of the country to accept him into the national mainstream."
Jha, whose earlier film Chalo America was a spoof, also clarifies that Sikandar is not a grim political message-oriented movie.
"It is an exciting suspense thriller. I have kept the politics of Kashmir in the background. In the foreground is a universal human story about a protagonist caught in a web of intrigue from which he tries to extricate himself and, while doing so, gets further and further embroiled. I myself get bored with heavy political dosage films," he said.
Sikandar's shooting took Jha to the 'forbidden' land of Kashmir, but he says the experience of shooting in the valley was "most pleasurable".
"What I'm depicting in the film based on my research is that militancy is on the wane in Kashmir. This was borne out by the fact that I had a smooth shoot in the valley. Sikandar is a postcard to Kashmir which contrasts the visual beauty with the cruelty of the goings on of the last 20 years.
Do you think film units can ever go back to the days of Junglee in the Valley?
"Wherever we went, we were shown locations and told that this location was used in this film or that location was in so and so song, etc. For instance, we shot in the beautiful 'Betaab Valley' near Pahalgam, so named because Betaab was shot there.
"The Kashmiri people are very proud that so many films were shot in the valley and sad that for the past so many years, film crews have not visited them. They are looking forward to film crews going back. People on the streets would shout to us as we walked by, 'Send more film people back. Tell them that we miss them.'"
Releasing Friday, the film stars Parzaan Dastur and Ayesha Kapoor, who were once kids in popular roles and are now gawky teenagers.
When asked if it was hard to deal with them, he said: "In fact, I cast Parzaan and Ayesha because I found that they had not only the required skill set of being comfortable in front of the camera but also had a long enough hiatus to bring a freshness into their performance.
"They are gawky in a way, but that was what I needed for the roles, so I used their gawkiness to maximum advantage for building their on-screen characters. Although both of them are young, they have a maturity way beyond their years and their ability to respond to a director's instructions is that of seasoned professionals."