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The Indo-Afghan Connection

By: Praveen Lance Fernandes, IndiaFM

Monday, July 31, 2006

Give an Indian, the word Afghanistan and probably 'Osama Bin Laden' or the 'Taliban' might strike him. Give an Afghani the word India and only one word will strike him - Bollywood.

Bollywood has long been a core in Afghanistan thanks to the similarities between the cultures and the fact that most people out there understand Hindi and Urdu. People there adore Indian cinema and its stars as well, especially Shah Rukh Khan and Aamir Khan.

Did you know that Afghanistan also has a film industry that was suppressed when the Taliban came into power? Their first film was shot in 1951 titled Love and Friendship which soon became very popular. However, the next film Like an Eagle came only after 2 decades.

Experts believe that the Afghan film industry got a new lease of life after 1978, when it emerged also on the international scene. Following 1978, a dozen of full-length color feature films, tens of tele-films and hundreds of documentaries and short films have been produced by Afghan filmmakers and screened throughout the country.

Actually, the Taliban changed a lot of things once their regime began. Bollywood films were completely banned and India lost out on a huge market. It was only after the fall of the Taliban did Indian movies made a comeback there.

Vikram Bhatt's Elaan was among the first films to be screened at Kabul's Bakhtar cinema shortly after the Northern Alliance forces took control of Kabul.

Experts say that with the re-opening of the Afghan market, overseas revenue could increase by over 10% if the market is taken up on a larger scale.

Also more recently Afghanistan has opened doors for outdoor shooting as well. Kabir Khan's Kabul Express is the first film to be shot in Afghanistan after the fall of the Taliban. The John Abraham-Arshad Warsi starrer is all set to release in October and the place is very close to the director's heart who says, "For me Kabul is not just a location but is a character in my film".

However, before the establishment of the Taliban came into being, there were a few Indian film shot out there.

Feroz Khan's Dharmatma (1975) was the first Indian film to be shot in Afghanistan. Dharmatma's story emerges from a strong conflict between father and son which keeps them miles apart in their approach towards life. It takes the son away to the rugged land of Afghanistan. Beautifully presented by Feroz Khan, a lot of stunning locations were captured right from the striking valley of Bamiyan to the lakes of Bande-Amir. Feroz Khan just loves the country. In fact, in his last home-production Janasheen (2003), he played the role of an Afghani fugitive. During the time of the Taliban regime, he had said in an interview, "I love Afghanistan and its mountains. I would like to go back there."

Khuda Gawah (1992), directed by Mukul Anand and starring Amitabh Bachchan, Sridevi and Danny Denzongpa was Amitabh's last film before he retired (for the first time). The film was extensively shot in Afghanistan and parts of Nepal. The setting and the characters were fully Afghani as well. Amitabh donned the role of an Afghani warrior Baadshah Khan while Sridevi was his beloved Benazir. The song 'Tu Na Jana Mere Baadshah' is one memorable song from the film. Incidentally, Mukul Anand also shot portions of his film Dus there as well but due to his untimely death, the movie never got completed.

And what about films based on Afghanistan but not actually shot there. One recent movie which comes to mind is the Manisha Koirala starrer Escape from Taliban. The film was shot in Ladakh and was based on the bestseller Kabuliwallah's Bengali Wife. It sank without a trace mainly due to lack of star-value, unaggressive promotions and mainly lackluster content.

There was an Afghani by the name of Hashmat Khan who started out as an actor with films like Sach (1989) and the Ramsay film Bandh Darwaza (1990). He is now producing, directing and acting in a film called Spring of Hope. "The security has really improved in the country. We got good response from the Ministry of Defense and the Interior Ministry. We shot at Kabul, Istalif, Salang Valley, the University there and also the central jail." said Hashmat.

So who do you think probably strikes as the most popular Indian actor who donned the role of an Afghani? Amitabh Bachchan in Khuda Gawah or Feroz Khan in Janasheen? Well, the awards definitely should go to Balraj Sahni for his portrayal of the rugged looking but children loving Pathan in the Bimal Roy production Kabuliwala (1961).

The film's biggest strength is the evocative story and the heartfelt performances by Sahni. His act is immersed with tenderness while his laughter is robust and his walk imperial. A class act from the late actor. Incidentally the film which was originally adapted from Rabindranath Tagore's writings was made in Malyalam and Bengali as well.

And last but not the least, we move onto Buzkashi. What's that you might ask? Buzkashi is the national sport of Afghanistan. The goal of a Buzkashi player is to grab the carcass of a calf and then get it clear of the other players, or pitch it across a goal line. This sport was seen in a number of movies. International films include The Horsemen (1971) and Rambo III (1988). Back in India, the scene was shot as the opening sequence of Khuda Gawah when Amitabh loses a game of Buzkashi to Sridevi and ends up falling in love with her. The soon to be released Kabul Express will also feature this sport. Director Kabir Khan says, "I have used genuine Buzkashi from the Panjsher valley."

A country restricted due to 25 years of war is slowly trying to find a place for itself in the world map. Movies like Kabul Express will definitely bring this country back into the limelight - only this time positively.

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