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Tracing the life of a ‘half widow’: Muslim director, Kashmiri pandit writer join hands for a film

Half widow is a term used extensively in Kashmir for women whose husbands have disappeared mostly in custody of security forces in the past 28 years of conflict. An upcoming film traces the story of one such woman.

bollywood Updated: Aug 27, 2017 15:26 IST
Ashiq Hussain
Ashiq Hussain
Hindustan Times
Half Widow,Kashmiri half widows,Neelofar Hamid
Neelofar Hamid, who was lead in the Sundance Award-winning film Valley of Saints, plays the titular role in Half Widow.

Kashmir has often attracted filmmakers for the beauty and conflict that the valley brings but an upcoming film will now showcase a Kashmiri perspective. Based on the lives of Kashmir’s ‘half widows’, the movie is generating a lot of buzz for something every native has yearned for – an insider’s view.

Interestingly, the director, dialogue writer, actors and singers of the film are all Kashmiris – both Muslims and Pandits – and depict one of the most painful aspects of Kashmir conflict.

The film christened Half Widow shows the struggle of one Kashmiri woman, Neela, whose husband was suddenly taken away one night, according to its director Danish Renzu (30). “It is the plight of a woman who lost her husband. It is her journey as a half-widow not knowing whether he was dead or alive. And it is also about her survival and her empowerment,” said Renzu, who has also co-produced the film with Gaya Bhola.

A still from Half Widow.

Renzu was trained as a producer and director in Los Angeles, graduating from the University of California, Los Angeles in 2010 and made some small films before his debut feature film- Half Widow

Half widow is a term used extensively in Kashmir for women whose husbands have disappeared mostly in custody of security forces in the past 28 years of conflict. According to association of parents of disappeared persons (APDP), around 8000-10,000 persons disappeared Kashmir and left some 1500 half widows. The government, however, disputes these figures.

The film will premiere in the United States of America in October. The first trailer was released in May and received mostly good reviews.

The film has Neelofar Hamid (Neela) who was lead in the Sundance Award-winning film Valley of Saints besides Shahnawaz Bhat from Harud and Mir Sarwar.

Through the film, Renzu said, he wanted to project some uncharted aspects of Kashmir to world audience. “The film is not only about conflict it is about Kashmir’s culture and its music,” the engineer-turned-director said.

There are four songs in the film sung by local Kashmiri singers including Mehmeet Sayed.

Renzu, son of a bureaucrat who left Srinagar for US at a young age and is now based there, is wary talking about Kashmir conflict. “Half widows are not specific to Kashmir. They can be in Syria, Afghanistan or any other place of conflict,” he added.

“This film is also about the education and empowerment of women. When I showed the film to a select group of people in US, some of them started crying. They had lost their loved ones, so they associated with the film,” he said stressing that he tries to depict the pain which is universal.

Another interesting aspect of the film is that its dialogues and lyrics have been written by Sunayana Kachroo, a Kashmiri Pandit now settled in US.

Kashmiris need healing as one thing that has eluded them is the sense of justice, Kachroo told Hindustan Times in an email interaction. “In many ways writing poetry or writing for characters in movies gives an outlet to my feelings too,” Kachroo added. Her family shifted from Kashmir much before the mass migration of her community during militancy, another painful aspect of Kashmir conflict.

Kachroo and Renzu have been writing stories together before the Half Widow happened. “When he discussed Half Widow with me, I was very excited because as a Kashmiri, I also crave for any opportunity to reconnect with my roots and my culture,” Kachroo said.

She added that the first casualty of any war is women and children and the last to suffer is the culture. “Our hope is that this film will help viewers look beyond these tags and look at this narrative through the lens of a human being and not through the narrow gender perspective. That is the beauty of the art, it should be able to help the audience to shed the identities (Kashmiri, Woman, Half Widow) away and connect with the human being and its suffering,” Kachroo said.

“Off late I have seen lot of poets and musicians of both the communities engaging in a meaningful conversation. We don’t have to agree with each other but we can converse....Jahan chaah wahan raah,” she added.

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First Published: Aug 27, 2017 14:52 IST