On the face of it, Indian-American tech entrepreneur Neal Kumar (Alyy Khan) lives the ideal life with his family in Silicon Valley. But when the daughter he thought he knew so well commits suicide, Kumar begin questioning everything, from his relationships to his career, in Saila Kariat’s American film The Valley.
Kariat’s directorial debut, which also stars Suchitra Pillai, will be released in India on March 2. “Mankind has always been fascinated with predicting the future...It’s all about strong connections,” Khan’s protagonist declares in the trailer. But relationships are not based on such bonds anymore, Kariat told Scroll.in.
“The technology he [Neal Kumar] is developing celebrates the connectivity of people,” Kariat said. “It is bit of an oxymoron, because technology is a tool that could connect us, but in many ways it doesn’t. Social media, for example, tends to alienate people rather than bring them close together. People nowadays have a social media persona, which is not really reality.” The Valley explores this irony through Neal Kumar’s story.
Kariat was provoked to make the film by the high rate of suicide among young people in Palo Alto in Silicon Valley in 2010. “Palo Alto in Silicon Valley has suffered from a series of cluster suicides,” she said. “There was one school where there were 14 suicides in succession, where a lot of young students were dying by falling in front of the train. It was shocking. It was a genesis of many different things. I raised two girls in Silicon Valley and witnessed the kind of pressures and anxiety they face. It is the tyranny of opportunity.”
A second-generation Indian-American herself, the filmmaker wanted to make sure that she had the right cast to portray the lives of immigrants. “There is always a token Asian character in a lot of productions now,” Kariat said. “Basically the Screen Actors Guild tells you that when you hire 10 per cent of minorities, you get a tax credit. They will either be a doctor with the accent or the taxi driver. My characters could be completely Caucasian. There is really no reason they had to be Indian. But for me, it is a world that I understand, and I feel like the problems that I have depicted are accentuated among immigrants.”
But financing, rather than casting, was the biggest hurdle to the production. “It took me about a year to write the script,” Kariat said. “Because I live in Northern California and not in Hollywood, I had a hard time finding a good producer to work with. Eventually I found producers. I put in half the money for the movie, and had to raise the other half from people.”