Interview|Kashmiri Filmmaker|Director Of Half Widow|Danish Renzu

Half Widow, written, directed and produced by Danish Renzu is a breathtaking tale of a Kashmiri woman whose carefree life goes through a harsh change after the sudden disappearance of her husband.

The film had a world premiere in New York at South Asian International Film Festival and the film was very well received.

we had a good world premiere in New York and we won Best Feature Film audience award which encouraged us and opened many doors for us. I’m sure we will find a distributor soon

Renzu is a Kashmir born film director, whose work in direction and writing have been received with critical acclamation. His performances have earned him official selections at various film festivals and recognition in the press and media.

The film is about a young Kashmiri woman, Neela, the protagonist of the film, whose husband is taken away while having dinner one night and then he never returns. Neela spends rest of her life hoping that her husband will come back, and goes through suffering for years looking for her husband. She faces insurmountable pain after the loss of her husband and is unable to cope with it. This is her journey of finding the strength to live her life again and the acceptance of her loss that accompanies strength. During the process, she finds her peace. The film portrays hope and empowerment in abundance.

Most critics see Half Widow, as one of the greatest works in Kashmiri cinema. We first discussed the nature of independent storytelling in Kashmir before looking at the specific characteristics of Renzu’s work.

We questioned him about his inspiration for the story and he went further to state,

Pashmina is my next film…the cast comprises of actors like Suraj Sharma and Adam Bakri who have featured in Academy winning feature films. The film also has an academy winning cinematographer.

“I got the idea of Half Widow when I met Parveena Ahangar who is also known as the Iron Lady of Kashmir. She has become an epitome of hope for all the half-widows in Kashmir. I went to one of her rallies and was shocked to see the intensity of injustice laid upon these women. They have been suffering for decades pleading for the whereabouts of their missing family members and yet have found no conclusion to their unending pain and tragedy. Half Widow emerged from this experience, and I knew a movie had to be made on this topic. Half Widow is not just a story about disappearances in Kashmir or about the conflict but is instead narrated from the point of view of the character itself, and the life challenges that she faces after her husband disappears. I found a motivation to make a film that finds a way towards healing and peace for these women so they can live life again. Irrespective of loss and pain, one must rise again and have the courage to live life with dignity and strength.”

The director goes on to narrate an anecdote that occurred on the sets. And while the lack of support is detrimental to the survival of the filmmaker, a dedicated team eases the process tenfold.

“It was one of the important scenes where our lead actor was supposed to run when her husband is taken away and she falls down on her knees. We took multiple takes to get that shot right and only later found out that the actor was injured on her knees and continued to shoot without complaining and letting anyone know. She was literally bleeding heavily but didn’t want to delay the shoot. It moved everyone deeply. It is because of that kind of support that the film is what it is. We became very close and functioned like a family. I miss the cast and crew of the film very much.”

The Illegal stars Suraj Sharma, Adil Hussein and Shweta Tripathy in the lead. The film narrates a story about an immigrant in America and the strains and struggles of his journey while pursuing his dreams. The film is currently in post-production and has caught a lot of media attention

This is a particularly troubling situation for a director of Renzu’s calibre. While his movies depict a stark rusticity, they explore a complex range of aesthetic, economic, and emotional issues in people who cope with their usual moments of life, both sad and happy. While he fails to find the studio back up and distributors for the film, he is quite trustful of the work he does.

“It’s a very small indie film and it has been very challenging for us to even finish the film. However, we had a good world premiere in New York and we won the Best Feature Film audience award which encouraged us and opened many doors for us. I’m sure we will find a distributor soon.”

The director adds, “Being born and raised in Kashmir, I always believed that Kashmiri stories haven’t reached a worldwide audience yet and many people are still unaware about the Kashmir conflict and their insurmountable amount of pain that the people here have gone through. I believe, even though there are films that have been made in Kashmir, none of them has done justice to the sentiments of the people here. The films haven’t portrayed Kashmir and its relation to the world in an authentic manner. So being a filmmaker, I think it is my responsibility to tell honest stories about Kashmir and bring them in front of the world to see. I also kept in mind that it is my responsibility to educate people about Kashmir and its people.”

Renzu began his journey in the conflict-driven valley of Kashmir where he lived through several attacks and bombings, bandhs and human right violations. Early in his life, he came to a conclusion that if there has to be a solution, there is only one. All this energy and frustration that people have dug up deep inside needs to be channelled towards personal growth, learning and wellness of the community.

As for screenwriting, to become a good film director, first, you need to be a screenwriter. Screenwriting is visual writing and directing is bringing that text to celluloid. They’re interconnected. I believe to be a director you need to know screenwriting and you should direct the scripts you write, and that’s the best way of learning direction

“There is a new wave of enthusiasts and artists emerging in the valley and it’s a new voice which is so pure and authentic. I think because of social media a lot of artists in Kashmir have gotten a platform to showcase their talent and it’s moving in the right direction. I’m sure with time, this positivity opens doors for future storytellers and encourages them to tell their stories.”

His first independent short film ‘In Search of America Inshallah’, was a story about a Pakistani woman who was in search of her missing husband. Shot in Los Angeles, the movie was received strongly throughout the world in various film festivals including recognition at Cannes, CAAM, Asians on Film Festival, Noor Iranian Film Festival, and various other film festivals. Roopa Jeevaji won various Best Actress Awards for her breathtaking performance as the lead actress of the film. The film was also appreciated by the press including recognition in Chime for Change, Indiewire, Women’s Voices Now, among many others. Inspired by a true story, the film portrayed the plight of a suppressed Muslim woman finally making a decision for her life by choosing what’s best for herself rather than following the cultural and societal oppression and obligations that were laid on her.  His second short film ‘First Love’ was premiered at the prestigious New York Indian Film Festival and was then picked under Official Short Film Competition at the London South Asian Film Festival.

The director tries to subtly confront his culture while also telling a good story. In the director’s work, the story comes first and the social commentary can be found by those who are looking for it. This fragile ball is one of the finest things that makes his films so engaging. The multi-faceted director even holds an engineering degree and before direction, he would actively write scripts. His talents put us in awe.

He says, “I always wanted to become a filmmaker. But being naturally good at Math and Physics I was inclined towards Engineering as my major. However, I also studied direction and screenwriting there and when the right time came, I switched to filmmaking as a full-time career path. I’ve finished two feature films ever since. I’m grateful and hopeful, both. As for screenwriting, to become a good film director, first, you need to be a screenwriter. Screenwriting is visual writing and directing is bringing that text to celluloid. They’re interconnected. I believe to be a director you need to know screenwriting and you should direct the scripts you write, and that’s the best way of learning direction. ”

The vivacious director then worked on two feature films simultaneously: Half Widow and The Illegal. ‘Half Widow‘ received recognition in various platforms all over the world and will be releasing on Netflix soon. The Illegal stars Suraj Sharma, Adil Hussein and Shweta Tripathy in the lead. The film narrates a story about an immigrant in America and the strains and struggles of his journey while pursuing his dreams. The film is currently in post-production and has caught a lot of media attention.

Alongside, Danish is working on another feature film set in Kashmir titled ‘Pashmina’ with an Academy winning cast and crew.

He confirms, “Pashmina is my next film, god willing. It comprises of an interweaving tale of four characters set in Kashmir. Yes, the cast comprises of actors like Suraj Sharma and Adam Bakri who have featured in Academy winning feature films. The film also has an academy winning cinematographer.”

If you can’t get your film to the theatres, you have Netflix and Amazon and it has encouraged filmmakers to tell all kinds of stories. These platforms are giving us more freedom of expression. Also, movies of all genres and countries are accessible to people worldwide. So, it’s such a great place and definitely the best time for filmmakers.

A graduate of University of California Los Angeles, Danish came to America all by himself at a very young age to pursue his dreams. He holds a Bachelors in Electrical Engineering degree. The director gets all enthusiastic and confesses,

” Studying at the University of California was one of the best experiences in my life. It was not just the quality of education but extracurricular activities and opportunities that I was never able to experience growing up in Kashmir. It was a very competitive and disciplined setting. Also, the diversity within the campus helped me realize the importance of community growth. “

As a conclusion, we asked him about the vod’s and the online movie streaming platforms and he asserts,

“It has open doors to independent filmmakers. If you can’t get your film to the theatres, you have Netflix and Amazon and it has encouraged filmmakers to tell all kinds of stories. These platforms are giving us more freedom of expression. Also, movies of all genres and countries are accessible to people worldwide. So, it’s such a great place and definitely the best time for filmmakers. ”

 

WATCH the trailer of Half Widow:

 

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