Falkirk writer signed for $20million movie epic about Taliban hostage nightmare

Accomplished screenwriter Howard Sargeant has worked on many interesting projects during the 30 years he has lived in Falkirk, but his latest contract is a show-stopper.

Sunday, 5th January 2020, 4:43 pm
Updated Monday, 6th January 2020, 5:49 pm
Falkirk-based film writer Howard Sargeant.
Falkirk-based film writer Howard Sargeant.

The 57-year-old has been signed up to co-write the script of a big screen epic telling the true story of one man’s descent into hell at the brutal hands of a rogue faction of the fanatical Taliban.

Howard will begin 2020 by enmeshing himself in a terrifying tale of hostage-taking, torture and murder, in a thriller to be called 165 Days - the length of time the hero of the tale spent wondering whether he would ever see friends and family again.

That man, London-based Asad Qureshi, is also Howard’s screenwriting partner in the venture, so in what is certainly a major career highlight he will be wholly engrossed in every aspect of the story.

Detail from a hostage video screened by the Taliban kidnappers who feature in the movie.

“It all happened just over ten years ago and is in the public domain”, he said, “but the basic facts hardly do it justice.

“This is a story about Muslims torturing and killing other Muslims, and the film will revisit some of the actual locations where it all happened.”

Qureshi, famed for his no-holds-barred documentaries, was kidnapped by Taliban fighters while making a programme about secret peace negotiations which were ongoing between the insurgents and the Pakistani government.

Newspaper accounts of what happened next make for difficult and harrowing reading.

Qureshi and three colleagues were subjected to brutal and sadistic torture for six months, living in continual fear of sudden death.

Their treatment easily bears comparison to the sort of treatment once meted out to victims of the Gestapo or KGB, and is a litany of cruelty and horror in a land many regard as the most dangerous in the world.

During their ordeal the captives assumed they were in Afghanistan, but later it transpired their nightmare had occurred wholly in wild frontier territory on the Pakistan side of the border.

Their captors were a group naming themselves the “Asian Tigers”, who were a splinter group of the Taliban.

Accounts suggest the ringleaders responsible for kidnap, torture and murder later met a gory end at the hands of their factional rivals.

Howard talks feelingly about the challenges of dealing with such drastic material, but at the same time he is thrilled to be so closely and directly involved with such a landmark project.

A man of many talents, Howard’s experience includes literary editing, feature writing, serial dramas and returning series for Avant-garde Films, an independent production company based in London and run by Qureshi.

However while the subject matter of his new, blockbuster contract is truly horrific he says the experience he will gain from this new and massively challenging work is literally invaluable.

“Asad was there, and suffered every minute of every day”, says Howard.

“The treatment he and the others received was truly appalling - a living hell that just kept getting worse”.

Through Asad, Howard will be in the almost unique position of being able to ask the victim of a monstrous crime every detail of his experience, step by step, month after terrible month, as it happened.

The $20 million production will be led by Avant-garde Films and will have veteran producer Nigel Wooll (Willow, Krull, G.I. Jane) at the helm.

Promoters say the movie will feature some of the biggest names in the business, both in front of and behind the camera.

Executive producer Phil Charette (Discarnate, Revenge) says of the project: “We have a fantastic, fast-paced, high-octane script and we’re putting together a terrific team of creative individuals with very impressive credentials.

“Telling this incredible story is the guy it actually happened to, and miraculously he survived.

“It’s cinematic gold dust and we all feel privileged and excited to be involved.”

The promoters make clear the story is one of tragedy as well as triumph, and accounts of what happened back in 2010 are easy to find online - but for most viewers, given the mayhem that has erupted in Afghanistan and Pakistan since then, the story will be completely new, and utterly gripping.

Howard says of the captors: “One thing I find interesting is that while we all think we know something of the Taliban mentality what comes through from the story is that these people - supposedly hating the west- are completely fascinated by it.”

165 Days will go into production later this year, and is expected to be released in 2021.