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Locarno: Indian Thespian Naseeruddin Shah in Final Talks for ‘Barzakh’ (EXCLUSIVE)

Directed by Meenu Gaur and Farjad Nabi, movie project to be presented at Locarno’s Open Doors

LONDON — Veteran Indian actor Naseeruddin Shah will play one of the leads in co-directors Meenu Gaur and Farjad Nabi’s “Barzakh: Between Heaven and Hell”. Produced by Anam Abbas and Mazhar Zaidi for Pakistan and U.K.-based production outfit Matteela Films, “Barzakh” is one of the projects chosen for the 2017 edition of Locarno’s Open Doors co-production platform.

Shah’s credits include “Monsoon Wedding” and “The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.” He headlines the Film London and Cinestaan production “The Hungry,” an adaptation of Shakespeare’s “Titus Andronicus” that will world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival in September.

A film noir set in the once-glorious Lollywood film industry of Lahore, Pakistan, “Barzakh” follows a fading diva, Sheena, who is trapped in an abusive relationship with her married boyfriend Rana, who is a well-connected policeman. The film will also explore issues of gender. The producers are looking to raise €760,000 ($888,788) with a view to commencing principal photography in August 2018.

“We are in the process of finalizing Naseeruddin Shah for the role of the abusive and violent Rana,” said Gaur. Shah headlined the cast of Gaur and Nabi’s “Zinda Bhaag” (2013), Pakistan’s entry in the Oscars’ foreign-language category. The film was hailed as one of the revivers of Pakistan’s fast-fading film industry, the difference being that the production base shifted from Lahore to Karachi.

“This new industry is set in Karachi and has no links to the old film industry,” said Nabi. “What we find odd is that the new industry doesn’t necessarily want to claim Lollywood as its heritage. This probably has to do with the fact that Lollywood took to producing B-grade films since the 1990s. But Meenu and I are big fans and cinephiles and our work consistently bears an engagement with that industry,” he adds.

“In the course of our visits to the now decrepit Evergreen and Bari studios in Lahore, we met scores of stuntmen, technicians, actors and extras, and became aware of the ways in which this once buzzing industry had been delegitimized and criminalized,” said Gaur.

“Walking around the studios during our research it was hard to shake off the feeling that one was surveying a ruin, a grim reminder of a bygone era. This present film ‘Barzakh: Between Heaven and Hell’ is about the passing of an era, the death of a film industry, cinema and celluloid itself.”

She added: “The film is for me a morally inquisitive work of political narrative fiction that connects a dying culture to the collapse of morality and the human spirit itself.”

Gaur and Nabi feel that due to the subject matter, the film would have difficulty getting financed in Pakistan; hence the bid to seek European financing at Locarno’s Open Doors.

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