By Christopher Bell | The Playlist February 18, 2011 at 3:09AM
It's always nice when filmmakers are open to collaboration. This teamwork isn't (and shouldn't) be limited to the actors, but their general environment as well. It takes an exceptional kind of artist to make these loose partnerships flourish, as a project could quickly become detached or too self-indulgent without the proper wrangling. Still, knowing that any sort of director is diving headfirst into a visually-rich area, planning to shoot guerilla style and working with non-actors to create something distinctive is pretty damn exciting. Tariq Tapa's arsenal had plenty of useful tools to make an incredible indie: a unique-looking cast of unprofessionals, decent video equipment, a simple improv-ready ten page outline, and the setting of the war-torn India-controlled Kashmir. Unfortunately, instead of resembling the works of the topically-fueled Nagisa Oshima ("Sing A Song Of Sex" was devised around national protests) or improv-heavy John Cassavettes, Tapa's much more grounded "Zero Bridge" has more in common with America's micro-indies, for better or worse.
Lead Dilawar (Mohamad Imran Tapa) is a delinquent youth, constantly finding himself in the wrong crowd much to his Uncle's/guardian's often one-note disappointment. After being thrown in jail for petty robbery, the teen is forced to work as a mason with the Uncle, though this doesn't stop him from hustling his former classmates, who pay him handsomely for his homework skills. Karma catches up, though, and he finds himself unable to keep up with their further studies. He comes into contact with Bani (Taniya Khan), a tutor about to be sealed into an unwanted arranged marriage that he not only falls for -- but also happens to be the exact person that he robbed. He harbors this secret, all while trying to woo her and save her from an unhappy future, with the intention of building one together.
They both have a goal -- Bani wants to return to America and Dilawar would love to find and live with his Mother -- but neither objective seems to have any weight to it. The fact of the matter is, the majority of the (non)actors are rather bad, and Tapa is insistent in driving every scene as if they're well trained thespians. They're not delivering monologues or anything, but the lack of any sort of emotion behind lines not only makes certain scenes (including a few cute, romanticy ones -- such as Dilawar using stock pick up lines written on paper) fall flat on their face, and it zaps the effect of realism that the director had intended. Also peculiar is the nature of shooting on-the-fly in a region with a wealth of interesting things going on, but preventing the actors from interacting with anything in the environment. Although the director explains in interviews that one of his priorities was to make a kind of timeless folk-tale, it seems like he really went out of his way to avoid doing anything too contemporary. While it can't be avoided completely, a more accepting approach could've given the film the life it needs.
That aside, the movie runs along pretty briskly, and when the director decides to take a break from the narrative and examine culture -- which range from minor observations of Bani playing musical instruments to a lengthy sequence of Dilawar speaking candidly about Kashmir on a boat with Englishmen -- he leaves an impression. Now if only this attitude was applied to the rest of the film, because as a whole, it doesn't work as well as it could've. All things considered, if this is the kind of movie that he can make as a one man crew with no dough, we might be in for something else if he ever gets proper funding and talent. For now, though, we'll have to wait, because Tapa's better days are ahead of him. [C]