The Unseen Side

Afghan Film Festival at NFAI brings the human and hidden stories of war-ridden Afghanistan.

Written by Debjani Paul | Published:May 14, 2013 3:21 am

Afghan Film Festival at NFAI brings the human and hidden stories of war-ridden Afghanistan.

An American helicopter crashes in the Afghan desert and leaves two men inside injured,a Caucasian officer and an African-American soldier. Unable to walk on his own due to the injury,the officer holds a pistol to the soldier’s head and demands to be carried to safety. The soldier,on the other hand,is constantly looking for a way to escape from the officer’s gunpoint. As they walk in the desert’s vast and unforgiving expanse,they realise they are at the mercy of nature. They chance upon a military tank,but instead of soldiers,it houses a civilian Afghan family. The story gets even more perplexing when they discover the family grows opium. Siddiq Barmak’s 2008 film,Opium War makes for a riveting and at times,absurd black comedy. But more than that,it gently opens the viewers’ mind to the more human and hidden side to the war and anguish-ridden country.

It is only fitting then that Opium War should also open the first Afghan Film Festival to be held at the National Film Archive of India from May 17 to May19,co-hosted by Pune International Centre. The festival will screen around 20 films,made in and about Afghanistan,which have been curated specifically for the incisive window they give viewers into the enigmatic country. H E Shaida Mohammad Abdali,Ambassador of Islamic Republic of Afghanistan to India,will inaugurate the festival.

“If you want to know what’s going on in Afghanistan,you watch the news. But all it tells you is about attacks and bombings. We don’t get to read too many books about what’s really happening. Films are the easiest way to open yourself up to a new country,” says Latika Padgaonkar,the festival’s curator. “Afghans love Indian films but for a country which is practically our neighbour,we know nothing about it or its movies,” she adds.

She points out that the festival’s significance cannot be emphasised enough as it marks the revival of cinema years after the Taliban clamped down on it in the ’90s. “It’s only since 2001 that cinema has begun reviving. Young filmmakers are training themselves,while established film people are teaching the art and making films about their stories. Some of these films are very good,” she says. The Glasses,for instance,tells the tale of children who find a book they want to read,but don’t know how to. Only their grandfather can read it to them,but first they need to repair his glasses. Or Osama,which tells the story of a young girl who lives with her mother and grandmother in absolute poverty because women are not allowed to work. The little girl finally decides to disguise herself as a boy and look for work.

“These problems are very much a part of their lives,” says Padgaonkar. But it’s not just tales of sadness and strife either. “You’ll see the overpowering landscape and how it shapes the people there. It’s so powerful,you never lose sight of it,” she says. But most importantly,as she says,“It’s nice to see that fear,war and poverty can’t wash away or drown their desire for creativity,to make their own films and stories.”

(Screening of Opium War will be followed by a discussion with director Siddiq Barmak)

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