Zero Bridge, the debut film by Tariq Tapa is a small, small film that punches significantly above its weight class in terms of emotional wallop. Set in Kashmir, it both introduces us to the core character’s lives at a pivotal point and, without saying anything about it forces one to consider the challenges of day to day life in such a disputed region. The film perhaps won’t be winning any cinematography awards anytime soon – but the low budget digital photography fades into the background rather quickly. And for whatever reason the low tech look of the film complements the themes. Especially when it zooms in very close on the two subjects faces. Director Tapa really seems to like to get in close on his leads Mohamad Imran Tapa and Taniya Khan (to the point you’ll be asking yourself if this is really a mumblecore flick). But it works as the camera loves both of them – for differing reasons.
Diliwar (Mohamad Imran Tapa) is a seventeen year old whose hard knock life would give Oliver Twist a run for his money. Abandoned as a child, his adoptive mother then dumped him off on an uncle to raise. Pining for a chance to return to Delhi and possibly his mother Diliwar earns money any way he can (when not writing to-do lists in his notebook). A borderline criminal entrepreneur his activities run the gamut of bricklaying to cleaning houseboats and the somewhat sketchy doing students’ homework for cash. His failed attempt to branch out into pickpocketing does yield him among other things a passport. It’s a relatively big score, and he’s rather keen to sell it. Though when he meets the beautiful Bani, owner of the passport, he’s torn about what to do. Bani (Taniya Khan as the older woman) is in love with America where she spent time as a student. She’s heartbroken over the loss of her passport. Without it she’s cruelly sentenced to live in a world where a 28 year old woman needs her parent’s permission to get another one. Those parents seem more focused on marrying her off – with what from western eyes seems like pretty casual cruelty in terms of who gets her. The uncle who Diliwar lives with may be well meaning, but he’s no prize either.
Amongst their pain the two find each other and become friends. How they’ll deal with their respective situations – coupled secretly by Diliwar’s crime against Bani are the surface arc of the story. But if you’re expecting from the description a big dramatic blowup over that passport forget it. This is a seriously understated film – that some may categorize as boring. Instead you get time to look at the characters and watch what they do as much as what they say. Myself, I found myself comparing it to a number of Iranian pictures that tell a surface story, and a deeper one, engaging the brain and stimulating post film discussion. That’s a huge compliment in my book, in case you’re not 100% sure.
It’s unclear whether Diliwar’s upended life comes from realizing the implications of one of his crimes, from the beauty of the woman, or just the realization even at 17 that enough is enough. Most importantly Zero Bridge makes no attempt to tell you how to feel directly. Either about Diliwar or the Kashmir region in particular. But feel something I strongly suspect you will.
I say see it – and thank the folks at the Northwest Film Forum for booking such great stuff. Plus even if you don’t like the film, from what I hear their new bar is now open…