The Valley showcased at Dallas’ South Asian Film Festival !
Gary Richardson in dialogue with the cast of the film “The Valley” Alyy Khan, Suchitra Pillai and Saila Kariat was nothing sort of huge bonding over the period of years when Gary was back in India and the camaraderie they shared was indeed worth its time and place.
Alyy Khan -A Mighty Heart, Don 2, and Traitor- was recently in Dallas for the fourth-annual South Asian Film Festival hosted at the Addison AMC by Jitin Hingorani, Founder and Festival Director.
Alyy is the male lead in Silicon-based, Indo-American, director/writer Saila Kariat’s critically-acclaimed debut movie The VALLEY.
Suchitra Pillai is the other lead, having already won the Milan International Film Festival and the Long Island Film Festival’s Best Actress Award. Pillai adroitly portrays an under-appreciated, detached mother looking for a way out.
Besides seeing these two international stage actors on the screen, I was looking forward to catching up with Alyy. Living on opposite sides of the globe, our paths haven’t crossed for over four years. (Alyy and I go back to the mid-nineties, when I made my first Indian sojourn. He directed and acted in my play Shikara. It featured the stage debut of future Bollywood star Viveck Oberoi.)
After watching The VALLEY in a sold-out cinema #3, and then participating in its Question and Answer Session, conducted by Atlanta-based entertainer Ash Chandler, I got to congratulate Alyy. We chatted a minute before I complimented, “The chemistry you and Suchitra had was outstanding.”
Alyy explained, “She and I go back to the Mumbai theater in the nineties, like us, so we are long-time friends. But it was the rehearsing that got everything tight. It was a 21-day schedule start-to-finish, so the dialogues and characters had to be spot-on.”
G: “It showed. So what was the location like?
A: “A huge mansion in the valley. Beautiful, peaceful. A good place to read after pack-up.”
G: “It looked wonderful in the movie.”
G: “So, where are you based now?”
A: “I work out of Karachi, but have representation in the UK and India.”
G: “You heading back to Karachi after the festival?”
A: “Yes, I shoot at least twenty days a month for a serial.”
G: “Shooting all those days isn’t too hectic?”
A: “Not a all. The Pakistan producers are well-organized, so there’s not much time wasted. I spend mornings with family, then go to the gym. Around noon a driver takes me to the studio. So the days aren’t too early or late.”
He excused himself to do an interview with Ohio-based movie critic Kirt S. Fernwood. That gave me a chance to visit Suchitra Pillai. We’ve worked together in Mumbai, so it was good to see her again, and on top.
(Making a fashion statement with her yellow designer kurta and cream ankle-length khadi skirt. A shiny, red-laced, red-faced square festival badge hung around her neck like an accessory.)
After chatting for a minute or so, I mentioned, “You and Alyy were right on.”
S: “Thanks, lots of rehearsing.”
G: Your voices and diction are so clear and strong. Did they even need to mic you?
Grinning, Suchitra nonchalantly explains, “Theater actors.”
S: “I’ve been in the industry for twenty-five years without the award, and now I get two from The VALLEY.” (She shrugs.) “But I put my heart and soul into playing Roopa. It was a very nuanced role.”
G: “Speaking of two, you’re in two different movies at this festival. How cool is that?”
S: “Cool. The other movie is the film version of the Mahesh Dattani play DANCE LIKE A MAN.”
G: “Just for the record, I saw you acting in the play at Bandra in the late nineties. What mileage you’ve gotten out of it.”
G:”Getting back to The VALLEY, how did you land the part?”
S: “Mumbai casting agent Nandani Shrikent called. We filmed the audition and sent it to California. I got the part.” Then she was suddenly called to the red carpet by a film crew.
I had been introduced to Saila Kariat earlier, a film grad from San Jose State, so, as she walked by, I asked, “What was the genesis of the script?”
S: “Thanks for asking. I observed what many of my kids’ friends go through at school. There’s an epidemic of student suicides in Silicon Valley. The family I grew up in has been effected by Mental Health issues.”
G: “So, it was first hand?”
G: “When the daughter in The VALLEY commits suicide at her college dorm, do the parents feel quilt or anger?”
S: “It’s quite common for parents to feel guilty. Their daughter was depressed. There is usually a tripping event that causes the suicide, though we weren’t specific. The parents always blame themselves for not seeing the problem and having it treated by therapy.” (She casts a sad expression.)
G: “Was it the issue of student suicide that led you to believe that The VALLEY would eventually make it to the “Big Screen?”
S: “Many people reacted so positively to the script, it made me hopeful. But it was a long evolution until the final product, and then seeing an audience reaction.”
She posed for a few photos before I mentioned, “Alyy’s character is similar to one we could hear about on CNN. A group of shocked and confused office workers will say, ‘The Boss wasn’t like that at work. We didn’t even know he had a gun.'”
S: “Unfortunately, its becoming too topical.”
G: “The moment he gets the unlicensed pistol, to help investigate the suicide, the plot makes its last turn. I take it you’re not a big fan of guns.”
S: “Things are getting out of control. Especially at the schools.”
G : Do you want to hear my review of Alyy?”
G: Looking at my notes, I stated, “Alyy Khan delivers a restrained yet powerful performance as he and debut director Kariat mesmerize the audience by reigning-in the gun-totting CEO, pulling him one step back from the edge, allowing the ticking time bomb to deafen.”
S: “Not bad.”
G: “Ok, www.dumkhum.com will print it. And by the way, has home cooking ever tasted as good?”
She grins, before asking, “What else did you like?”
G: “The cinematography was award-worthy.”
S: “Paul Nordin’s work. What scenes caught your eye?”
G: “My favorite was the pool at night when the CEO and his daughter (well-played by Agneeta Thacker) try to talk but can’t because their relationship is frozen. At the same time, Nordin captures the reflection of the water frenetically warring on their faces, creating a metaphor of screaming unspoken dialogues…foreshadowing her suicide.”
Saila smiles proudly.
G: “What about the overhead shots of Alyy in the BMW convertible on the Pacific costal highway? They must have messed-up your budget.”
S: “It was a drone.”
G: “What about the music. It was so royal.”
S: “I hired music composer Jacob Yoffee for the western classical sound. On a limited budget, he produced a 14-member orchestra and composed the lovely score.”
G: “It lifts the movie. The location too. Alyy was impressed with the mansion.”
S: “It’s a 8,100 sq. ft. Tuscan Villa in Los Altos Hills. One of the executive producers, Andrea Batista, lives there. She let us use it.”
G: “Sounds like you got ‘a little help from your friends.’ Anyone else you’d like to acknowledge?”
S: “I’d like to thank Aki Fujimura. He was the first investor. He took a chance…believed in the “stop student suicide” theme and script.
G: “What’s next for The VALLEY.”
S: “Our India release is March second at Inox and PVR theaters.”
G: “Alyy mentioned you had gotten a distributor for the UK and India. How?”
S: “I worked like a dog for over a year. I was the ‘catch person’ for The VALLEY.”
S: “Thanks. Right now in India, our trailer is being shown before the Black Panther movie. So, we’re excited.”
Then she spoke with some Dallas reporters.
Soon, Alyy and I strolled across the parking lot to the film festival party at the renowned Indian restaurant SAFFRON.
I pigged out on savory chicken tikas, shrimp and paneer. (Shamelessly, I returned for seconds.)
Alyy, Ash and Suchitra were treated to the chef’s “special” dal and subji.
An hour later, Alyy, Ash and I were in my Honda, taking a moonlight drive on the beltline. Moon roof open, we talked while listening to Mozart sonatas, marveling at the iconic Dallas skylines’ collage of sizes, shapes and colors.
Yet when we eventually got back to Addison and their Marriott, Alyy repeated his claim from before: “You almost killed us.”
Ash complained, “Twice, you went down the wrong side of the road.”
I muttered, “Just briefly.”
Alyy probed, “How?”
The truth was that Ash’s slow, miscommunicated, backseat GPS directions were the reason.
So, I played with their minds by claiming, “After almost twenty years of driving in India on the left side, you come here and have to drive on the right. So once in a while the old conditioned-reflexes kick in.”
They both sprouted expressions that said, “you’re joking, right?”
That ‘incident’ was dismissed as Alyy showed me cellphone photos of the mansion he is constructing in Karachi.