It is not hard to see the obvious Islamophobia in the United States right now. With Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump encouraging so much hate and racism, the role of Muslims and practitioners of Islam in American culture is still apparently up for debate.
The new short film “Dastaar” takes a hard look at such post-9/11 hatred. The project was written and directed by NYU Alum Javian Ashton Le, who graduated from the College of Arts and Science in 2009 and developed an interest in film during his junior year at NYU. While at school, Le had numerous conversations about Islamophobia in the U.S. with his roommate JD Singh, who has experienced it first-hand being a Sikh-American. During these conversations, Le’s focus switched from the specific violence that happens to Sikh-Americans to the intense fear that they constantly feel about being victims of such violence. The film’s title, “Dastaar,” refers to an article of faith among Sikhs that represents devoutness, valor and integrity.
While only 10 minutes in length, the film speaks volumes about racism and prejudice in America. The story follows Harpreet (Sathya Sridharan, Tisch MFA Acting ‘14), a young Sikh-American, and his girlfriend Emily (Olivia Gilliatt, Tisch MFA Acting ’14), a young Caucasian woman. Taking place shortly after 9/11, Harpreet gets a call about his father being attacked. Throughout the film there are several hints and details that build up the fear Harpreet feels for his family and himself, enabling the audience to really understand the fear that underscores the protagonist’s life.
Sridharan gives an incredible performance. He establishes Harpreet’s fears in the most subtle, intense way. Sridharan was actually a friend of Le’s before production, and the role of Harpreet was created around him. His performance truly helps propel the film, enabling its political power.
Harpreet’s subtitles and small, surmounting nuances in the world help build the film’s emotion. The visual aesthetic created through the cinematography lends a big hand as well. “Dastaar” is shot in a dark, grey tone that underscores Harpreet’s fears.
Interestingly enough, the production for the film took place before Trump announced his candidacy for president, although his campaign is a piece in a long line of Islamophobic views and tendencies that have been building ever since 9/11.
Remarkably, “Dastaar” addresses this racism in a real way, showing the antagonist characters as being more than just two-dimensional. Rather than exaggerating or simply restating the discrimination, Le shows the everyday subtleties and fear of it.
“Dastaar” premiered earlier this year at South by Southwest and will be released on Vimeo and Short of the Week on Oct. 24.
A version of this article appeared in the Monday, Oct. 24 print issue. Email Sophie Bennett at [email protected]