Half Widows of Kashmir- 45 minutes
Rebuilding Lives in Gujarat- 45 minutes
Year of Production- 2014
Broadcast on Astro channel Oasis- September and October 2014
Production Companies- Creative Stew, Malaysia and NDTV Red Dot ,India
Astro , a leading pay TV broadcaster based in Malaysia had a brief- to produce a series of films that looked at Islam in various countries, countries in which it was a minority religion. The program was to be broadcast on an Islamic channel but there were plans to sell it to international channels around the world. The films in this series look at Islam in Myanmar, Bali, Sweden and England amongst others.
India was one of the countries Astro wanted to look at. I have worked extensively in India and know the Malaysian audience well and I approached the broadcaster with ideas from India that looked at beyond the obvious. I also knew various Indian production companies, who would do justice to the complexity that the subject matter presented. Astro was willing to explore the relationship further and my journey started.
The key to a good documentary is not the budget, its finding the right people –
The first step was to find the right kind of team. New Delhi based NDTV Red Dot was keen to be commissioned internationally. They also had access to places like Kashmir, which were potentially sensitive locations to shoot in. And they were willing to go the extra mile even though the budgets were modest. Kuala Lumpur based Creative Stew, an upcoming production house, joined our team as we needed a Malaysian production partner.
Astro had previously tried to approach many of the established independent Malaysian documentary production companies, who had previous experience working with international broadcasters like History and Discovery. But none of them were willing to work at the local channel commissioning rate.
Our team managed, by choosing subjects which are grounded in research, by ensuring that the scripts and storyline were crisp and compelling, and by working with local crews. The key to a good documentary is often not the budget, but working on the right kind of formula to make them happen.
Balance is the key to dealing with controversial subjects-
The subject matter of the films were sensitive. Islam and India have had a torrid history. India has the second largest Muslim population in the world, and news of riots and religious violence periodically hit the headlines. But I knew there were different stories too. India has produced Shah Rukh Khan (Bollywood actor) , Abdul Kalam (was President of India ), Irfan Pathan (a leading cricket star) , who are leaders in their respective fields and are loved by all Indians, across religions. There are many educated Muslims in India, very much part of the mainstream society, and their story is rarely documented. Our films are emotional stories of Muslims in India that have lived for centuries in a multi cultural society.
Our first film was based in Kashmir, and we chose to focus on the story of Half Widows. It is a term used for women whose husbands have disappeared during the conflict with India. Most of the women we spoke to lived in Srinagar and their husbands had been allegedly picked up by the Indian army. We also travelled towards the India Pakistan border, where we met women who had been left behind as their men had willingly crossed over the border to join the militancy movement against the Indian state. The film chronicles the lives of these women, where what is right, and what is wrong is not clear. It could have been a political commentary and instead we focused on the personal lives of three Kashmiri women, who have spent their lives waiting, waiting for a closure.You can watch the trailer here.
Rebuilding Lives in Gujarat-
Our second film looks at Gujarat, a state infamous for the 2002 riots, and how some Muslims have managed to reintegrate themselves in the mainstream population. The story could have been one dimensional, but we were surprised to meet so many people who had managed to turn things around for themselves. We chose to focus on educated business professionals who beat the prejudices and managed to reinvent their careers to suit the changing modern India. One of the characters in our film is a businessman who used to be in the spice trade for decades, and whose factories used to regularly get burnt down in the riots that have hit Ahmadabad over the decades. After the 2002 riots, he reinvents himself to start a BMW showroom, a business he says is more in tune with the changing population of the city. It is just one example among many of how many Muslims have moved on as the society around them has changed.
My key message was to look at Islam in India not as black and white, but in all its shades of grey. The stories we made are an attempt at reflecting the complexities and subtleties of the lives led by Muslims in India. As a Supervising Producer, I had to ensure that we did justice to the complex subject matter.
The films will air on the Astro platform in September and October 2014, and will be distributed in major TV markets in the coming year.