Homeward boundhttps://indianexpress.com/article/cities/delhi/homeward-bound/

Homeward bound

When the Sikandar film crew landed in Pehelgam near Srinagar in July last year,it was the first time actor Sanjay Suri was returning to the valley after 18 years of “living in exile in Delhi and Mumbai”.

Years after militants killed his father,actor Sanjay Suri returns to Kashmir to shoot for Sikandar

When the Sikandar film crew landed in Pehelgam near Srinagar in July last year,it was the first time actor Sanjay Suri was returning to the valley after 18 years of “living in exile in Delhi and Mumbai”. “I had spent the first 19 years of my life living with my family in Srinagar. We were forced to leave the place after my father was gunned down by militants,” he says softly.

Even after he signed Sikandar,he was wary of the trip to the valley. “Visiting a place after almost two decades,where you grew up and which you had to leave all of a sudden is not easy. I had been postponing my visit to Srinagar for quiet some time,but my mother and sister insisted that I had to come to terms with the truth,” he adds.

Sikandar, directed by Piyush Jha,has Suri portraying the character of a reformed militant leader named Mukhtar Mattoo,who becomes a Kashmiri politician. “I have always been careful of working on projects related to Kashmir,as the scripts were generally biased. But this one did not delve much into the trouble in the valley,” he says.

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In the film,Mattoo heads a political party called the Kashmir Peace Party that tries to broker peace between the militants and the army. “I am familiar with the behaviour and mannerisms of the politicians in the Valley and understand how they respond to situations. I could add my own touch to the role and the director did not have to spoon-feed me,” he says,adding that “visiting Kashmir once again was a fringe benefit.”

Though Mattoo has a violent past,Suri recalls that in the early 1990s when he was growing up,militancy was still in its infancy. Though he did hear of sporadic incidents of Hindu families being driven out of their homes and being forced to leave the state,Suri never thought the violence would reach his home. His father,Virender Suri,who ran a flourishing timber business,would say that life in Srinagar was getting tough. “At about 8 am on August 1,1990,some men from the neighborhood barged into our home with guns and started arguing with my father over the keys to our factory. Then,suddenly,without any reason,they shot him point blank and left,” he says. His mother,sister and Suri fled to Delhi,leaving their home and a familiar life.

Sikandar helped Suri bury the ghosts of his past. After shooting was over,he drove to Srinagar from Pehelgam and stayed there for two weeks to catch up with lost friends. “I was happy I was there. But memories did come back to haunt me,” he adds. During the filming,Suri played guide to his unit,showing them around and treating them to cups of kehwa and Kashmiri delicacies.

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