The day Tariq Tapa began auditions for his film in Kashmir, Saddam Hussein was hanged in Baghdad. There was chaos in the Valley. Amidst stone-pelting and stumbling upon a scarecrow that looked like George Bush hanging by the noose in front of his office window, Tapa began work on his Zero Bridge.
New York-based Tapa, an American-Kashmiri (his father is Kashmiri), had arrived in the state with what he calls a running file of stories and drawings set in Srinagar—stories about people’s daily lives. Based on these stories, he wrote a 140-page screenplay for his film, named after one of the bridges in Srinagar that runs over the Jhelum river. It is the story of Dilawar, a teenage Kashmiri pickpocket. In an unexpected twist of fate, Dilawar forms a bond with one of his victims, a girl called Bani. The consequences of his illegal activities eventually threaten their friendship and their future.
Tapa’s first challenge was to select his actors, who eventually turned out to be first-time, non-professional actors. Dilawar is played by his own cousin, a decision Tapa came about while playing chess with him one day. Dilawar’s uncle’s role is played by Ali Mohammed, a mason, who plays the role of a mason in the film as well.
The technical crew featured only one man: Tapa himself. But that is not the only challenge Tapa had to face. Overcoming snowstorms and strikes was not easy. On top of it, rumours flew around Srinagar that Tapa was making a pornographic film. He was attacked by angry youth in his office, and had a narrow escape. The police interrogated him on this charge for many hours. But Tapa was determined to go on with the making of the film.
Zero Bridge had its world premiere at the Venice Film Festival in 2008. Later this summer, it will premiere in Los Angeles and the Czech Republic, among other places. Tapa says the response have been overwhelmingly positive in Europe among audiences and critics. In Venice, the film received a standing ovation.
Tapa now wants to continue developing characters from his stories, which he says will happen in “its own time”.