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US Award Win For Groundbreaking Trilingual Kiwi Film

by Michael Botur

A groundbreaking short film set in the colliding worlds of Indian sailors, British sealers and Māori mana whenua has picked up a major award at the Alameda International Film Festival in Oakland, California.

‘The Lascar’ - a 35-minute film - is the first New Zealand film to bring together Urdu, te reo Māori and English languages on screen together.

The film picked up the Jury Short Film Award on February 27 this year after it screened in Alameda.

The Lascar had previously won awards for Best Drama Short and Best Short Film at the Indian Independent Film Festival in 2023.

30-year-old director Adi Parige was born to an Indian family in Wellington, raised in the US and began his film career in California and the UK.

‘The Lascar’ explores the history of sailors from India who served on Britain’s East India Company ships. It was shot at Manurewa Point/Tora near Cape Palliser over a few days in December 2021, with forest scenes shot north of Wellington in early 2022.

Parige created the film after returning to his birthplace in 2021 to undertake a Masters in Fine Arts. The film is about a Lascar man, Dasa, marooned in 1799 on NZ’s coast with a tyrant British leader intolerant of Dasa secretly trading with a nearby Māori brother and sister. Stars include Tanea Heke (Waru, The Justice of Bunny King), Ian Blackburn (LOTR: The Rings of Power, After the Party), Finn McCauley (Avatar 2), Mark Matthews and Fredrick Pokai.

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Parige found one of his stars in a most unlikely place – a bar. “My first night out in Wellington, I went to Rogue and Vagabond and I was introduced to Mohammad Kunwar – who was the bartender’s flatmate and ended up playing Mamun. Then, after reaching out to the Wellington Indian community, I came across lead actor Vinith Shiva. Vinith is from Hyderabad, is a native Telugu speaker and is trilingual in Telugu, English, and Hindi. Mohammad is a native Urdu speaker from Karachi, Pakistan. They both had next-to-no experience on camera before The Lascar.”

‘The Lascar’ was made on a humble $50,000, received some crowdfunding on Boosted and was helped by investments from the Indian High Commission, New Zealand Indian Central Association, Auckland Tamil Association and Te Herenga Waka-Victoria University of Wellington. Parige is a UNESCO Fellow for Wellington City of Film, which contributed a grant while editing the film.

Māori cultural guidance on the film came from kaiārahi Rob Thorne (Ngāti Tumutumu).

Parige describes himself as a globetrotter with a growing desire to return to NZ and understand his birthplace. Combined with “Ever-evolving cultural self-awareness,” Parige stumbled upon the history of Lascar people in NZ thanks to the 2018 book ‘Indians and the Antipodes,’ written by two Wellington historians. The book reveals the first Indians to ever set foot in New Zealand, the first of who is believed to be a Muslim man named Mahmud Qāsim, who hailed from Pondicherry and came with a French expedition at the same time as Captain James Cook, in 1769.

“The history of lascars in New Zealand has long been lost to the shipping logs of New Zealand’s archives,” Parige says. “Our film shines a light on these forgotten individuals while diving into complex and tragic relationships lascars might have had with Pākehā settlers and indigenous Māori.”

“By bringing this short film to life, we can finally give face to the many men who have nearly been erased from the history books.”

Parige hopes the mid-length film can be a proof of concept and is looking for producers to turn it into a feature film.

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