Trump taking the US backwards: Indian-American filmmaker

Mumbai: Director Saila Kariat during the promotion of film “The Valley” in Mumbai on Oct 10, 2017.(Photo: IANS)

NEW DELHI – Indian-American Saila Kariat, who has made her directing debut with “The Valley”, says the US — where a debate on immigrants has been raging — is going “backwards” under the leadership of President Donald Trump.

“Starting as a child, I immigrated from US-India-Canada-US, so I have seen the evolution of attitudes towards immigrants. When I came back to the US in 1984, I felt it was so progressive compared to other countries,” Kariat told IANS in an email interview.

“However, I find recent developments in the US alarming. The present government is taking the country backwards. To me, it is a clear demonstration of how leadership is so important,” she added.

After living in the US for over 20 years, Kariat picked up a story about an immigrant family to tell through “The Valley”. But she steered away from making it a piece harping about their experiences in a foreign country. Instead, the award-winning film, which released in India on March 2, throws light on an important aspect: Depression.

It follows a distraught father as he searches for answers after his college-age daughter’s suicide.

On the idea behind making the film, Kariat said: “I have lived in Silicon Valley for over 20 years. I witnessed the pressure young people face to be successful, and the cluster suicides in some Bay Area schools. The problems experienced there can be found in most modern societies all over the world — they are just more intense in our high tech capital.

“Anxiety and depression are on the rise amongst young adults, and the reasons are complex. I explore this in the movie. I have also seen mental health problems go unaccepted or ignored in the Indian community. There is a lot of stigma, particularly amongst Asians.”

Produced by Wavefront Productions, “The Valley” stars Alyy Khan and Suchitra Pillai. The film has won awards at many film extravaganzas like the Berlin International Filmmaker Festival of World Cinema, Madrid International Film Festival, Out of the Can Film Festival and DC South Asian Film Festival.

Making the movie was not at all easy.

“I had the story idea about eight years ago, and started writing the script about four years ago. Independent filmmaking is a process full of obstacles, and mine was no different. I had to raise the money, find the crew and cast. Raising the funding was a challenge, as this was my first feature.

“Then I worked extremely hard on casting with Lauren Herrel. I could not find the right actors in the US, so I reached out to India and Pakistan. That’s how I found Alyy Khan, Suchitra Pillai and Samina Peerzada.”

Kariat, who hails from Andhra Pradesh, was born in Berkeley and worked as an engineer for many years. Her father was a professor and moved jobs.

After getting married and embracing motherhood with two children, she started her own residential construction company. It was after that she gradually realised her passion for filmmaking, and embarked on her journey to make it come true by getting a degree in film at San Jose State University.

“I love filmmaking — the creative process. I am struggling with filmmaking — the business. Due to various reasons, I have had to drive the business end of the movie, and that has been challenging. However, it is truly a passion. Anyone who has made a feature can tell you the sacrifices involved. You can’t do it unless you truly love it,” said Kariat, who has produced some projects as well.

In “The Valley”, she has tackled the sensitive subject of depression and suicide. She says her vision is to touch hearts with her stories.

“I want to tell stories that have some meaning and relevance in today’s world. I do not like gratuitous violence and sex. In some cases, the story calls for it, but I feel many movies try to introduce these elements simply to make themselves commercial.

“I want to tell stories that touch people’s souls, not make them cringe.”