‘In places like these, no film has ever been shot. I am in love with Central Asia and the Silk Route’

‘In places like these, no film has ever been shot. I am in love with Central Asia and the Silk Route’

Girish Malik talks about his film ‘Torbaaz’ for which he found two Kashmiri children to play the leading part in a team of young Afghan cricketers

The film ‘Torbaaz’ juxtaposes children preparing to be suicide bombers with those gearing for a future in cricket in modern-day Afghanistan. Director Girish Malik’s ambitious endeavour to capture the struggles of war-torn nations is evident in this film. More remarkable yet is the casting of the movie, especially its extremely talented Kashmiri child actors, Aishan Jawad and Hamid Shafi. Pairing them with Bollywood stars like Sanjay Dutt, Rahul Dev and Nargis Fakhri, Malik has strived to make a film which is based on reality but also consistent with the tropes of Bollywood entertainment.
In a conversation with Prerna SM Jain, here is what the film’s director had to say:
There has been a considerable gap of 7 years between your former film ‘Jal’ and now ‘Torbaaz’. What inspired you to direct this film?
I didn’t want to rush into anything which did not appeal to me. It is very important for me to love an idea to be able to give it all. Post Jal, I did not want to take up anything hurriedly, even though I had so many ideas. Then, when I started to work on this particular idea, my co-writer Bharti and I both decided that we should do this film because it was giving me goosebumps. So, I began to start working on this one. Immediately the first thing that I wrote, in the first 30- 40 pages, I knew that we had to make this, that I had to be a part of this journey.
What was the message that you were trying to convey through your film?
My idea is very clear. The theme is a serious, yet inspiring one. The story is about how you can rescue the innocence of young children and gathering the courage to do that. Many people talk about it, but not many people have the courage to do that. According to me, the story is also to explore the human angle. My idea was that people should view this film and see what goes into the innocent lives that are caught in the crossfire worldwide. So, according to me it was a very moving tale which should be loved by everyone because it is not just about Afghanistan. I wanted to tell the human story that such conflicts cause along with a message of hope. I think that my film will give a voice to the next generation of innocent children and people who are suffering in the conflict, and bring the people world over, closer to THEIR world.
What about the specific locations of the film? What was your experience?
We shot certain portions in Ladakh. 90% of the film was shot on the borders of Afghanistan, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan. It was a great experience. The temperature was below freezing point, reaching up to minus 20, with high wind velocity. This film was so pretty; I did recce in Drass, Kargil, Spiti and Ladakh… and finally I choose the major location as the borders of Uzbekistan, Afghanistan and Kyrgyzstan because of the kind of mosques and terrain that I was looking at. It was an untouched location. In places like these, no film has ever been shot. So, it was very complicated for us to create our infrastructure, but otherwise the whole thing has been superb, and I am in love with Central Asia and the Silk Route.
What were some of the challenges that you faced during the making of this film?
It is a great challenge when you shoot outdoors. See, when you shoot in a controlled environment like studios and everything, there is no big issue. Gaana hua (a song was shot) and everything, that is very simple. But outdoors, when one day is very sunny and another day it starts snowing, the wind velocity is high and suddenly the temperature is -20, things change drastically, so you need to be mentally prepared. And not just you, your entire crew, actors and entire production are fatigued and drained, because the weather is so unreliable. We have actually shot while it was snowing. Another issue was with the language barrier – we couldn’t understand their language and they couldn’t understand ours. Also, although I wanted a massive budget, there is only a certain budget within which you can make a film in India. But we had local support in Kyrgyzstan and other places.
Could you tell us more about your cast, especially about Aishan and Rehan? How did you happen to cast them and how was your experience working with them?
When the casting for the children was happening, I was very clear that I wanted children from Afghanistan. We got children from there but since the language of the film was Urdu and Hindi, that would have been complicated. I wanted to cast very raw children where you can kind of carve them in a certain kind of way. So, we took certain actors from Afghanistan. The main children, that is ‘Baaz’ played by Aishan, and Gosh which is played by Hamid, what happened was that we started picking up children from all over and finally one day an idea came. I was doing my recce in Ladakh and Drass and I met some Gujjarwals in Kashmir. They had some beautiful children whose eyes were very deep and light coloured. I thought that it would be a good idea to have a cast who can play cricket and be very good at Urdu, but at the same time with a little accent, so basically that worked out well for me. So, we sent our teams out to Baramulla, Anantnag, Srinagar and other places, and finally we found Aishan Jawad and Hamid Shafiin in Srinagar. They had never acted before. It was a huge challenge to take the new boys along with Sanjay Dutt, Rahul Dev, Nargis Fakhri and everyone. My challenge was that I knew that these were the boys that I wanted to work with. Both of them are extremely talented. I also took some children from Mumbai, from Mohammad Ali Road and other places. Their backgrounds worked for me. The entire rawness was really good. Eventually what happened was that children from different parts of India and the world went along and bonded together. But yes, these two Kashmiri children, Aishan Jawad and Hamid, were really special.
What are your hopes with the film?
The audience has really supported me with this film and now, very strangely, worldwide, in countries like Greece, Cypress, Sri Lanka, Nigeria, Bangladesh, UAE, Saudi Arabia – it is trending no. 1. It is an exceptional response for me. In Pakistan it is no. 1, in Kuwait it is no. 2. In Hong Kong it is in the top 10. As a filmmaker you want your film to go to every part of the world. Such films, where everybody talks about negativity, I wanted to talk about reforms. I wanted to change the story through the children’s eyes. You cannot change the past, you cannot change the present, you can only change the future. Let’s not spoil the future of the children, let’s give them hope, education, sports. I am thankful to all the NGOs who are working on such issues and to all the cricketers, who are from different parts of the world, who are working with these children, and who inspired me to make this film. Look at the Afghanistan cricket team today, they come from such hardships in their life, some of them actually come from refugee camps. That’s why I wrote a line for children – “they are the first victims of terrorism, but they are not adults.” So, the mindset needs to change worldwide.

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