The Taliban laid officially siege on Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001. Kandhar was the capital at that time. While they were in power, a strict form of Sharia law was followed, particularly in the cities. Social and cultural norms of Pushtunwali were followed. Ultimately, their period of rule resulted in immense human rights violations while they tried to extend and consolidate their power in different parts of Afghanistan. During the Taliban regime, cinema was banned among various other things. Since 1996, when the Taliban took over, cinemas in Kabul were attacked and many movies burnt. Even the viewing of television was stalled. After the 9/11 Attacks, the Taliban was overthrown by the USA invasion and the war against Afghanistan began. Since then, many film-makers have stepped forward to tell tales about the lives of people affected by the Taliban. It has definitely been a difficult and challenging task, given that the consequences of such expression could be deadly. In view of this, I have compiled a list of such movies that tell of the experiences of ordinary people by the Taliban regime:
10. Escape from Taliban
The film is based on a real life account called “The Kabuliwala’s Bengali Wife” by late author Sushmita Banerjee. It was released in 2003 and directed by Ujjal Chattopadhyaya. It tells of the tale of Sushmita who accompanies her husband Jaanbaz to his home country, Afghanistan. Her parents had opposed the marriage because he was of Muslim faith. On the way to the country, the horrors in the country leave her scarred as she witnesses bomb explosions, mutilated dead bodies and the number of armed people. Her husband refuses to take her back. She eventually settles down in his house and gives birth to a baby girl. His family has already forced her to take a Muslim name. Sushmita is in dire straits and can no longer bear the oppressive life there. She wants to escape but it is nearly impossible for her without a male escort. Eventually, the Taliban put a death sentence on her after the escape for not converting to Islam. In real life, the Taliban eventually killed her in September 2013.
9. Kabul Express
A fictional film set in Afghanistan, director Kabir Khan expresses his inspiration for the film as based on in his journey in post-Taliban Afghanistan. The story begins with two Indian journalists, Suhel Khan and Jai Kapoor reporting on life in the country after the US invasion in 2001. However, while traveling on a taxi from Kabul, they are horrified to find the state of the nation since the rule of the Taliban. They barely manage to escape capture by the dormant Taliban. On the way, they meet an American Muslim Journalist called Jessica. They are eventually caught by a man called Imraan who is actually posing as a Talibaan officer. He threatens them to go to the Aghan border with Pakistan or they will be killed. However, they discover that he is actually a member of the Pakistani Army and his real name is Wassim. After a series of mishaps with the American soldiers and Mujaideen, Imraan meets his daughter but is shot at the Pakistan borders. The others manage to escape to safety.
8. A Mighty Heart
It is a film based on the same name as the memoir of Mariane Pearl, released in 2007 and directed by Michael Winterbottom. The movie revolves around Marriane’s turmoil as her husband David Pearl, a Wall Street Jounrel Reporter is kidnapped in Karachi. The efforts of the US Administration are also shown in the movie to locate the kidnappers and save the victim. However, it ends up in vain. It is believed that Omar Sheikh, part of the Al Qaeda was responsible for his kidnapping and his murder through a brutal beheading. During the actual events, Marriane had gone to Pakistan with her husband. She was pregnant at that time and faced this blow. She was filled with unspeakable vengeance and in order to make her baby son understand what happened, she wrote the book which later became a full-fledged movie that warmed the hearts of viewers and critics alike, backed by strong performances by Angelina Jolie as Marriane.
7. The Black Tulip
This fictional movie was directed by Sonia Cole in 2011. Set in Afghanistan, it tells the tale of the Mansouri family who start a restaurant called “The Poet’s Corner” in Kabul. This becomes a place where artists and writers meet. The director plays the lead as Farista who is the owner of the café. She serves wine in tea-pots although alcohol is forbidden by the Taliban regime. Eventually, the Taliban is angered by these activities. The family members of the café owner are kidnapped and eventually killed. It is said that through the shooting of the movie in Kabul, Miss Cole received repeated and even faced a hotel bomb blast. She actually played the lead role because another actress meant for the role backed out. This happened after the actress had been kidnapped by the Taliban and had her legs cut off. This movie was selected as Afghanistan’s entry as “Best Foreign Language Film” at the 83rd Academy Awards.
6. Zolykha’s Secret
This film, set in Afghanistan is directed by Horace Shansab who left his childhood home in Kabul and eventually settled in US about 3 decades ago. Zolykha is the lead female protagonist in the movie who is very young, curious and has a special power. She is clairvoyant and can see spirits of men from the past. Her family has gone to a rural neighborhood in the mountains of Kabul to escape the oppressive cluthes of the Taliban. They live under dire distress and struggle to survive whilst facing the same oppression even in their new home. Zolykham is saddened as she can’t attend school. Her older siblings, Amena and Zalmai also struggle to find meaning in the midst of these tragedies. The story takes a turn for the worse when a Taliban soldier, Yusuf has a roving eye for the firstborn daughter of the family. Despite her father’s attempts to defend his daughter’s right, the children are forced to flee to the city where the Taliban are operating even more.
5. Zero Dark Thirty
A 2012 thriller directed by the famous Kathryn Bigelow, it received wide acclaim and nominations. It was nominated for 5 Academy Awards and Golden Globe Awards as well. The story-line is based on the decade long hunt for Osama Bin Laden after the 9/11 attacks. The lead protagonist is Maya, a CIA agent who is working on the Al-Qaeda investigation. The movie shows very graphic and brutal interrogation moments of the 9/11 suspects.She has been searching for Osama Bin Laden for a long time and finally circumstantial evidence leads to a raid on May 2, 2011. The US Nazy SEAL Six Team is sent to capture or kill him. They eventually find him and his corpse is identified by Maya. The last scene shows her boarding a US military transport as a lone passenger. She is seen quietly breaking down as the movie comes to an end. Despite the controversies this movie generated due to alleged pro-torture stance, use of supposedly classified information, it remains a fascinating and well-directed movie.
It is a 2003 film directed by Siddiq Barmak and depicts the challenges faced by the women during Taliban rule. The story unfolds in a household with three generations of women- a pre-teen girl, her mother and grandmother. They are reeling under the pressure exerted by the Taliban on the livelihood of women. Her mother is forced to give up her job as a nurse. The young girl eventually disguises herself as a boy to help her family. She is renamed as Osama. The ruse is going well until she is forcibly recruited by the Taliban along with other young boys. They are trained in fighting and the art of ablution (washing oneself for purification). She is eventually caught and put to trial. Though her life is spared, she is married off to a much older man with 3 wives. He locks her up in a room most of the time. The movie ends on a note showing him performing ablution which is done after contact with wives. Clearly, her tragic fate is sealed.
3. The Kite Runner
This movie, spanning over a wide range of events, from the fall of the monarchy in Afghanistan to the emergence of Taliban was based on a novel by Khaled Hosseini. It was released in 2007 and directed by Marc Forster. The story is about two Afghan boys who spend their days bonding over flying kites despite their differences and the wars. Amir is the richer boy whilst Hassan is the son of his father’s Hazara servant. On the day of the kite-flying tournament, Amir betrays his friend. Eventually, he leaves for America whilst their friendship is strained beyond measure. Two decades later, he returns to find his country ravaged by Taliban rule. In the process, he tries to save Hassan’s son, Shorab who is also destined to a terrible fate otherwise. Hassan has already been executed by the Taliban long ago. Eventually, Amir and Shorab escape to America where the last scene in the movie shows the young boy learning how to fly kites. The film went to receive several nominations like the Golden Globe, Academy Award etc.
This movie is half a documentary and was shot partly in Afghanistan during a time when filming was banned by Taliban. It was released in 2001 and directed by Mohsen Makhmalbaf and trails the partly real journey of Nelofer Pazira. She is Canadian-Afghan and had originally arrived again in the country to locate a childhood friend. Though her real-life attempt was unsuccessful, the movie was made partly in Iran and also in Afghanistan. The story is about Nelofer’s journey to Kandahar. She comes back to the war-ravaged nation to search for her sister who has threatened to kill herself on the last eclipse of the millennium. In the process, she is forced to wear the burqua and follows the rules there. The surreal elements of life there that are a tragedy reality nonetheless are revealed in a strikingly unforgettable manner. This movie was presented at the Cannes Film Festival in 2001 showing “a country without images”
1. Rethink Afghanistan
This compelling and ground-break documentary directed by Robert Greenfield and released in 2009, was a glimpse into an alternative view of US policy on Afghanistan. The director visited the country and the documentary has been shot in 6 parts. Several experts from all over the world have been interviewed and many issues, such as the mind-set of the tribal people, border between Afghanistan and Pakistan, cost of war, civil casualties, treatment of Afghan women and the security of the world is considered. The role of the Taliban and Al-Qaeda is analysed in depth. This movie was distributed for free over the internet to challenge policy-makers, educate people beyond popular perception. This video helped retired army men such as Corporal Rick Reyes to testify before the Senate of Foreign Relations and he told them that “Sending more troops will not make the US safer; it will only build more opposition against us. I urge you on behalf of truth and patriotism to consider carefully and Rethink Afghanistan.”