I did not know how I would finish the project – until I
met filmmaker Sharat Raju who became the film’s co-producer and director.
Working with a team of friends over five years, we developed the project into the first feature-length documentary
film Divided We Fall.
How did you meet your filmmaking partner Sharat Raju?
I met Sharat 10 years ago at the first-ever Sikh film festival in Toronto in October 2003. Sharat screened his critically acclaimed film American Made, and I showed footage
from the interviews I collected after 9/11. Sharat’s film captured the hopes and struggles of a Sikh American family
after 9/11 through a poignant fictional narrative film. I felt
it was the fictional version of what I had documented on
After the festival, I asked if Sharat would help me make
the film. A writer-director trained at American Film Institute, Sharat became the film’s director and co-producer,
brought his professional team on board, and the project
went from a low-budget student video to a feature-length
In the process of working together, we fell in love.
Sharat and I have been filmmaking partners and partners
in life for the last decade. We have made five documentary
films together and built a loving community of teammates,
friends and family.
Sharat brings joy and laughter into everything we do
together, whether working in the editing room, dancing in
our living room, hosting chocolate parties for our friends,
or biking along the ocean.
We decided to get married New Year’s Eve 2011 and had
a big beautiful interfaith wedding with our friends and
family: a Hindu-Sikh Indian American wedding near my
parents’ home in the rainforests of Costa Rica.
Long before our wedding day, Sharat’s parents, Tonse and
Vidya Raju, brother Manu Raju, and sister-in-law Archana
Mehta provided tremendous love and support to both of us.
Manu also happens to be a senior congressional reporter
at Politico and frequently appears on television. Sharat and
Manu’s grandfather Gopalakrishna Adiga was a renowned
Kannada poet whose legacy continues to embolden each of
us in our careers in writing and the arts.
What was the impact of your first film Divided We Fall?
Divided We Fall launched Sharat and me on a national
tour to 200 US cities and towns — high schools, colleges,
universities, congregations, and community centers.
People were hungry for brave new ways to talk about race
and religion in America after 9/11.
Under Sharat’s direction, the film uses my personal jour-
ney across America to explore stories of racism and hate,
hope and healing after 9/11. It asks the greater question:
“Who counts as ‘one of us’?”
On tour, we witnessed remarkable gestures of solidarity
after people watched the film.
An African-American man in Chicago stood up after the
film, pointed to his braids and said: “My braids are my tur-
A Japanese-American woman in New England said: “My
grandparents were interned in the concentration camps
during WWII. No one raised their voice. I will raise my
voice for you now.”
In Sharat Raju, Valarie Kaur found a professional partner and her soul mate. For the last 10 years, they have made films and run campaigns
together, using storytelling for social change. In the background is their multi-faith alter.
A gay man in New York said: “I must fight for the rights
of Sikhs to wear their turbans, just as I fight for the right of
LGBTQ people to come out of the closet. We have to fight
for one another.”
In crisscrossing America, I witnessed how stories can save
us; stories can help us see ourselves in one another. Just as
audiences began to see themselves my story, I began to see
myself in theirs. I realized that our community’s struggle is
bound up with the struggles of African American, Latino,
American Indian, Jewish, Muslim, LGBTQ and all
Americans still seeking to live, work, and worship in this
country without fear.
I was inspired to find ways to work closely on justice
issues with other communities, so that I could draw connections between our struggles and help network us in one
greater movement for equality and dignity in America.
You learned how to use the power of storytelling to effect
change as a filmmaker. Why did you then decide to go to law
I believe that storytelling can produce deep healing and
dialogue. But I have also learned that storytelling is not
enough. Lasting social change requires that we use stories
strategically to challenge institutions of power. I experienced this lesson the hard way.
On August 31, 2004, I was wrongfully arrested while
filming a protest as a legal observer at the Republican
National Convention and injured by a police officer. I found
myself behind bars in a New York City detention nick-
named “Guantanamo on the Hudson,” scared, nursing my
dead hand on my chest, deep blue gashes in my wrists. I
stared at the bars with a revelation: I am a citizen. I speak
English. I am educated. What happens to people behind
prison doors without these privileges? How do we fight for
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