By Ather Zia
You grew up in New York, you have roots in Kashmir? Take us back into your childhood and tell us a bit about your family life?
I was born and raised in New York City. My mother is American, and an artist. My father comes from Srinagar, and is a travel agent. Mine was a creative childhood, full of making projects. I started with drawing and writing stories, and then moved on to making short films. I saw as many films as I could, every day, and kept a log of what I watched. I saw just about every film that came out, and kept working my way through film history. All the while I was writing stories I wanted to film someday.
How did you feel about Kashmir growing up?
I went there with my father in the summers to visit family, until I was about maybe ten years old. It was pleasant to be with such warm people, very loving.
Any fond memories?
The happiest memory in Kashmir I have is of my cousins and I playing with ducks on the muddy banks of the Jhelum after a rainstorm. That was exhilarating.
What inspires you about Kashmir?
The variety of human behavior is the most endlessly interesting and inspiring thing, anywhere in the world.
How did you choose filmmaking or did it choose you?
I started early, as I mentioned, making short films and studying films on my own quite seriously for most of my life. There was nothing else I wanted to pursue. It was just an intuitive direction that felt right.
So tell us a little about Zero bridge, maybe we could start with the title? Why is it called Zero bridge, what is the significance?
The title refers to an actual bridge called Zero Bridge in Srinagar. The bridge itself is an important location in the story. The film is about a young pickpocket saving his money to leave Kashmir, but his escape plans are complicated when he becomes friends with one of his former victims.
Tell us a little bit about the film, its genesis etc.?
Since I was a teenager I’d wanted to tell a contemporary, naturalistic story about daily life in Srinagar. I started writing ideas down then, then over the years it began to develop and take shape. Eventually, when I had collected enough layers to fill up a story, I decided it was time to shoot it.
This is quite an offbeat film, the cast is raw and fresh, no professionals have been used, why did you choose to work this way?
Surprise and authenticity are the two most important aspects of telling a story. I felt that an audience would be more surprised by the direction of the story if they did not have any familiarity with the actors playing the characters. Usually in a movie, once you see Amitabh Bachchan or Tom Cruise appear, you already know where the story is headed. And, no matter how good their performances are, you are still aware of the fact that they are big stars and nothing will happen to them that they won’t be able to handle. So there’s little surprise when you watch the film. And I really like movies that are surprising, so I wanted to keep the audience guessing about what this person, whom they did not know, would do next. His character doesn’t have to be either black or white, it can be both.
Did you have auditions for the film; walk us through how you found your actors. It’s fascinating since none of them are professional actors…
For the young male lead, I had auditions for a few months. Eventually I wound up casting my cousin, who actually gave the best audition. Then for the female lead, I posted adverts at girls’ technical colleges. That led me to meet several women and met their families to discuss the role until the best fit for the male lead was cast. And finally, for the elder male lead, we met while I was doing a documentary month earlier about concrete masons. There was a role I had already written and I bypassed auditions in order to hand-pick the person for the role of the Uncle.
For contemporary Kashmir, pivoting movie around love is not something Bollywood readily does. Why did you choose to do a love story in a time when violence is all that the name Kashmir evokes, or is that precisely the reason?
Actually there is violence in the movie, but it’s a more subtle kind of violence than the kind of violence you’re referring to. It’s the subtle violence that people are more familiar with than the overt violence shown in the media.
Does life inspire your work?
Of course, but I’m not interested in autobiography or journalism. My experiences and other people’s experiences re-configure themselves in my imagination. And when I write a story, it’s my imagination that’s driving it more than anything else.
I must admit I have yet to see the movie, but what I have seen till now reminds me of Iranian filmmaker Majid Majidi’s Baran, I may be totally wrong here but what I want to get at is how do you perceive your own work? Any films or filmmakers that inspire you?
I’ll leave the question of how my work is perceived to the prognosticators. I’m not too good a witnessing my creative autobiography. I haven’t seen Baran, but I am an admirer of many directors, including Olmi, Renoir, Capra, Kubrick, Scorsese, Melville, and the TV writer David Milch.
Tell us about the response in US and abroad? It was won quite a few awards?
Zero Bridge premiered at the Venice Film Festival last year. Since then it has traveled worldwide. I am very surprised and flattered by the reception it’s been fortunate to have.
Will there be any special screenings in Kashmir?
We hope so. It’s difficult because the cinemas there are closed and people stay home to watch satellite television. We are still figuring out the details. You can learn more through our Facebook page, and through our website: www.ZeroBridgeFilm.com.
Are your actors thinking of continuing acting or was it just a onetime project?
They had a positive experience on this film, and as you can see, they are all very talented. But I have no idea what their plans are. You’d have to ask them.
What are your upcoming projects?
I’ve been writing something for television about J. Edgar Hoover and the creation of the FBI. And I’m writing my next films to direct.
A Still from the movie:
The main protagonist sprints across the film’s namesake location: Zero Bridge
Tariq Tapa is an American of Kashmiri descent born in New York City. He is being hailed as a promising face of the independent film. His recent debut feature Zero Bridge was premiered at the 2008 Venice Film Festival.
Zero Bridge is a neo-realistic story of love based in Kashmir. An offbeat film made on a sparse budget and no crew, Zero Bridge boasts a fresh cast of non-professionals actors mostly belonging to Kashmir. The film was shot over a period of nine months. Tariq is currently based in California.
Visit Zero Bridge’s official website here: http://www.zerobridgefilm.com