A couple of weeks ago, my colleague Dan Bolles wrote about Punjabi singer Shael's latest video, "Meri Jaaan," which was filmed in Burlington. The video's producer, Razaq Baloch, said many viewers wanted to know where it was shot. While Shael's video might have piqued Bollywood fans' interest in the Queen City, Vermont is familiar to Banllywood fans.
Since 2009, Muktar Aden and Mohamed Muktar have made six feature films and distributed them through their own production company, Banllywood Entertainment. The pair also has a weekly news program, "Somali Bantu TV," which is filmed at the studio of the Vermont Community Access Media in Burlington and runs on Channel 15.
Last Saturday, Aden invited me to watch them film their seventh movie, Juniya 2, at Ethan Allen Park. Besides headlining the film, Aden, known as Muktar America among Banllywood fans, is also the producer and action-scene instructor. Mohamed Muktar is the cameraman and has a supporting role.
The first installment of the Juniya franchise was made in 2014. Although the film is in Maay Maay, a language mainly spoken by the Somali Bantu, it's easy to follow the movie. It tells the life story of a police officer, played by Aden, and his battles with a gang of drug dealers. At one point, Aden's on-screen wife was kidnapped. "That movie was a hit," Aden said. "People love action movies."
The duo decided to make a sequel because of the interest the film had generated, especially among youth, Muktar said. This was reflected in the comments that viewers left on the company's Facebook and YouTube accounts. On their YouTube channel, Juniya has garnered about 77,000 views, making it the duo's most-watched film.
In Juniya, Muktar plays the role of Aden's friend, who's interested in joining the police force. However, his application is rejected because of his slight stature. In the sequel, however, Muktar's character joins the investigation branch of the police force.
So, what can we expect in Juniya 2? This time, Aden's character will battle against two gangs and his sister will be kidnapped, Muktar explained.
The actors were not deterred by the heat of the midday sun, the unrelenting mosquitoes at Ethan Allen Park and the fact that Saturday was the first day of the Islamic fasting month of Ramadan. "We are doing the action part now," Muktar said. "It's going to be about the kidnapping."
In one scene, Aden's character was chased by two (plastic) baseball-bat-wielding gang members and their leader. Their "brawl" prompted a woman to peer out of her window nearby and shout, "What's going on? Shall I call the police?" When they needed to show the bloody effects of the fighting, the actors used the soft drink Vimto.
For Fatuma Mohamed, who plays the role of Aden's sister, there was a lot of waiting around. Still, the Community College of Vermont student described the experience as fun. Although Juniya 2 was Mohamed's debut film, the actors — Muhidin Abdi, Abow Ibrahim and Mara Abaz — had acted in other Banllywood films.
During Somali Bantu TV filming, Abdi usually mans the control room in silence. In Juniya 2, he's the head honcho of the gang pursuing Aden.
Ibrahim needed additional tips on how to make his fight scenes more real. The 22-year-old poet, comedian and rapper, who goes by the moniker the Bantu Rapper, agreed to being in the movie because he wanted to showcase his other talents. "Being an artiste, you have to venture into different things," he said.
For Abaz, acting is his way of expressing his artistic creativity since he stopped singing a couple of months ago. He used to perform at weddings. "In my community, I'm a famous person,"Abaz said unabashedly.
"[But] I stopped singing because of my religion ... any music with instruments is haram [forbidden]," he continued. He was referring to the opinion held by most Muslim jurists that music, with the exception of that produced with the duff (a Persian framed drum), is unlawful.
But there's one habit Abaz hasn't quite abandoned. Throughout filming, Muktar kept reminding him not to look at the camera. "When you are a singer, your eyes look at the camera," Abaz explained.
Filming is scheduled to end in early June, and Juniya 2 will be released later that month on VCAM, said Aden.