Director Teeshay Shah (right) sits with Ahmed Shihab-Eldin during the shooting of the film, “Hireath.” (Sreejith Nair photo)

LOS ANGELES, Calif. — The short film “Hireath” had its world premiere at the Various Artists Independent Film Festival in the Spotlight Film category in Chicago Oct. 7.

The film, written and directed by Teeshay Shah, delves into the world of refugees.

“I came across an unbelievable story of a refugee from Iraq, which fascinated me a lot. I didn’t know anything about that world (the Middle East),” Shah told India-West in a recent interview.

The United States invaded Iraq in 2003 with a mission to eradicate weapons of mass destruction and the threat that Saddam Hussein posed. Shah had heard an Iraqi war refugee’s account of what happened to his life and to the lives around him post invasion and was deeply moved.

“After the U.S. invasion, life completely changed for the people of Iraq,” Shah said. “The refugee told me that after the invasion, people’s lives were disrupted. They had to now travel 35 miles to do basic things like getting gas.”

The story inspired Shah, an Indian actor and model working in Bollywood, to create a film that takes a closer look at the turmoil that war refugees face when they are displaced, what that entails for families who are torn apart, and also touches upon immigration issues. The film looks at a war refugee, ‘Hasan’, played by Emmy-nominated journalist Ahmed Shihab-Eldin, and his friendship with ‘Ali’ (Shah’s character).

Shihab-Eldin told India-West that this film resonated with him in many ways.

“I was immediately drawn to the idea that this film is simply one conversation between two strangers that speaks volumes about a worldwide crisis – refugees, the most desperate among us, demanding dignity only to be dehumanized and have their struggle dismissed,” he said, adding: “When I first read the script, it reminded me of so many different conversations I'd had with the many refugees I've come across working as a reporter and journalist. Also as a Palestinian myself whose life was uprooted often, I connected immediately with this deep and innate longing for one's homeland.”

According to the United Nations Refugee Agency, in 2016 there were 65.6 million war refugees worldwide. That number had jumped 300,000 from the previous year and it has continued to grow. Shihab-Eldin is familiar with the plight of those refugees.

“I grew up living all over the world, forced to adapt to different cultures and traditions, and both my parents’ families were forced to seek safety and refuge when war broke out in their homeland. This legacy of loss lives inside me and so if I can at all generate awareness and empathy for the millions currently living in limbo, I feel it is my duty,” Shihab-Eldin told India-West.

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