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Celluloid treat for the Valley

Akh Daleel Loolech is the first Kashmiri feature film to be released in 39 years. Catch the latest action from Bollywood

india Updated: May 06, 2006 11:51 IST

Filmmaker Aarshid Mushtaq was not yet born the last time a feature film was made in his native Kashmiri language.

Now Mushtaq, 32, is preparing to release Akh Daleel Loolech or A Story of Love, overcoming a myriad of obstacles to unveil the first Kashmiri-language feature in 39 years.

"I wanted to have popular entertainment in my language. Through this film I want to redefine Kashmiri entertainment," said Mushtaq, who wrote and directed the movie that will be released later in May.

For ordinary Kashmiris, entertainment hasn't been a high priority since a bloody separatist militancy began raging in the region.

Even today, it is impossible to go to the movies in Kashmir. All cinemas were shut down in 1989 when the uprising began. This forced Mushtaq to rethink his approach.His film is a drama set in a Kashmiri village in 1887, when the region was ruled by a Hindu Maharajah.He has made it as a digital movie, and will bypass theatres entirely.

"One of the main reasons of choosing this format, apart from money, was that there are no cinema halls in Kashmir. There is no fun to make a film and leave it on a shelf," Mushtaq said. Instead, it will be released on the Internet and sold as DVDs and VCDs, making the film more widely accessible.

"I want people to take my VCDs home and enjoy the film. My film should reach everyone," said Mushtaq.

Digital is also much cheaper than conventional film, which helped with a budget of just 800,000 rupees ($17,800 or €14,000). Mushtaq also had trouble getting funding. Many backers were sceptical, since the last Kashmiri film Maenzraat or The Night before the Wedding was made in 1967.

Even before the outbreak of the rebellion, it was difficult to find financial support for films in Kashmiri, which would only appeal to the small market of Kashmiri speakers. Also, the local industry was overshadowed by Bollywood.

"Four days before the shooting, the financier backed out," Mushtaq said. Shooting was delayed for a month and resumed only when one of the actors and some friends offered money from their personal savings to carry on with the work.

His cast of 57 comprised mostly first-time actors. Locations and sets also were difficult to find. To find pristine locales that resembled the villages of 19th-century Kashmir, he and his team had to shoot in remote, freezing areas, high in the Himalayas.

For costumes, old clothes were bought from a flea market and refitted by a tailor. Mushtaq found an old craftsman in a village who could make straw sandals worn by villagers in the 19th century. But it was worth it, he said.

"It was a wonderful experience," said Mushtaq. The film tells the story of a village during one of the region's worst famines, when thousands perished while feudal landlords imposed harsh taxes and took villagers away for forced labour. The love story of the title is between a poor village boy and a feudal lord's daughter, woven into the backdrop of the social and political struggle of Kashmiris during feudal times. The tale of the struggling against subjugation and fear is very relevant to Kashmiris today, the director said.

"The idea is to mirror the psyche and condition of the people and my point is that it has not changed for hundreds of years," he said.

First Published: May 06, 2006 11:51 IST