Whatever their future, at the dawn of their lives, men seek a noble vision of man’s nature and of life’s potential.” This sentence remains American novelist Ayn Rand’s “cardinal reason” for the universal appeal of her controversial 1943 novel The Fountainhead.
Three decades later when Srinagar-based director Ali Emran was gifted a copy of the book by his maternal aunt, he knew that one day he would make a film based on it. Ibtida (The Beginning) is a result of that conviction. Winner of the best feature film award from Jammu & Kashmir region at the International Film Festival of Kashmir 2015, it is the story of Zahir, an architect for whom integrity is sacrosanct. The Urdu film, screened at Delhi’s India Habitat Centre last week, is shot in Srinagar with Kashmiri television artistes. “I’m from Kashmir but I also wanted to show a different Kashmir to my viewers,” says 40-year-old Emran, whose last film was Qouluf (2014), based on the idea of Rishism (the Kashmiri expression of Islam). In Ibtida, he essays the role of Zahir, based on the protagonist Howard Roark. So instead of a picturesque background with shikaras floating on the Dal Lake underneath the clear blue sky, the viewers are shown rough mud hills, dirty construction sites and an algae covered stream with a worn-down plank bridge on it.
Emran notes that every location and set was chosen according to the personality of the characters. Zahir’s rawness has been enhanced by using a hilly site, open to the elements, as his office. Gautam (based on Peter Keating), the second lead’s superficial ideals and extravagance has been brought out by using an elaborate set as his office.
However, adapting a 600-page novel into an 82-minute long film posed a challenge. Remaining true to the novel’s theme and working with a limited budget were the other major issues faced by Emran. To maintain a fast-paced narrative, the filmmaker has used architectural animations and voice-overs.
Though he began shooting in 2008, Ibtida was stalled for the next seven years. “I was going to Parihaspora to shoot a scene, when an army convoy crossed us. I was asked to stop the car. I did that but the car crossed the mark by two feet and I was slapped for doing so by the army personnel,” says Emran. Shocked by the incident, he decided to work on a peace and development plan for Jammu and Kashmir along with Srinagar-based NGO, which finished only last year. The phase one of this project will be released online soon. In a scene from the film, Zahir recalls the incident, saying, “In the last seven years I have met many people, who I remember are just bothered about where am I? Why am I there? And who have I become?” Looking forward to releasing the film online in August, Emran is also ready with his next, Paether- An Actor, based on the lives of Kashmiri folk theatre artistes.