Family, Taliban scare off actresses in Afghan film industry

  • Share via facebook
  • Tweet this
  • Bookmark and Share
AFGHAN ACTRESS: Actress Marina Golbahari, achieved global fame from her role as a young girl dressed as a boy in the Afghan film 'Osama' (Getty Images)

AFGHAN ACTRESS: Actress Marina Golbahari, achieved global fame from her role as a young girl dressed as a boy in the Afghan film 'Osama' (Getty Images)

A young bride silently sobs on the floor watching her mentally disturbed husband gorge on chicken, rub his greasy hands through his hair and scream at her for more, just another chapter in the couple's violent life together.

Film director Saba Sahar anxiously watches the scene by the cameraman, squatting in blue jeans and wearing a bright pink headscarf. "Cut!" she calls.

The first Afghan female in her profession, Sahar, 36, has become a household name after acting and directing for more than half her life. She is adored by Afghan women.

Like other Afghan directors, Sahar says finding actresses is her top challenge in an ultra-conservative Muslim country where many view acting as un-Islamic and inappropriate for women.

"Some Afghans think cinema is a bad place for girls," said 19-year-old Deba Barekzai, who plays the young bride in Sahar's 15-part TV series. "Working in cinema has caused me lots of problems and difficulties."

She spoke during a break in filming in a mud and straw house on Kabul's outskirts, her eyes still glistening from a red onion used to force tears in her last scene.

Considered too dangerous by her family to train in Afghanistan - because of disapproving relatives and the Taliban - Barekzai went to neighbouring Iran to study acting.

Afghan-Canadian director Nelofer Pariza said family pressure stopped several of her actresses from showing up on set when filming 2009's "An Act of Dishonour", a real-life story about an honour killing.

"It was really sad. Fear would actually stop them from coming to work," Pariza told the audience last month following the film's first public screening in Afghanistan.

A film within a film, "An Act of Dishonour" revolves around the fate of an Afghan actress who starred in a film made by Pariza's colleague. Upon discovering his wife had taken part in a film, the husband shot her dead.

Played by actress Marina Golbahari, who achieved global fame from her role as a young girl dressed as a boy in the Afghan film "Osama", she now studies acting in India.

Pariza and Sahar are part of a handful of female Afghan directors who focus on violence against women in a bid to both employ women on screen and expose their plight.

Nine years ago she set up her production company Saba Film specifically with this aim.

"I have two messages for Afghan women and girls. First they should never think they are weak, second they must have self-confidence," said Sahar, whose frank and orderly manner hints at her past as one of Afghanistan's few policewomen.

Called "The Green Leaves of Autumn", her new series evokes hope in the unlikely.

The bride is subject to 'baad', an ancient Afghan tradition when a woman is given as compensation for a crime. Though illegal it is widespread, causing outcry from international rights groups.

In the narrative, she is given to her husband after her brother guns down his relative in a duel. Her family honour is restored, but she is beaten, sexually abused and forced to slave away for a man she despises.

Later, the young woman's brother avenges his sister, and stabs the mentally ill husband to death.

"This is an example of just one of the many problems Afghan women face in today's society," Sahar said.

Further complicating their challenges are the threats the film industry receives from a resurgent Taliban, who banned television and women from most work before their austere rule was toppled by US-backed Afghan forces a decade ago.

Amid escalating violence across Afghanistan in the tenth year of fighting in the NATO-led war, fear of the Taliban is ever present across many sectors of society.

The Afghan film industry says suicide attacks and bombs threaten the livelihood of its cinema just as much as its lack of quality equipment.

"These are the reasons our cinema today cannot improve," said Latif Ahmadi, a much-loved director and head of Afghan Film, the state-run cinema agency.

He also said financial guarantees to actresses - as a benefit for their risky work - are in short supply due to the dire economic situation in a country where more than 40 percent live below the poverty line.

Join the Discussion

Disclaimer:The view expressed here by our readers are not necessarily shared by Arabian Business, its employees, sponsors or its advertisers.

Please post responsibly. Commenter Rules

Posted by: Kat

One step at a time, women will get there, they just need to continue supporting and nurturing one another. It will take time, patience and energy. These women will be remembered as pioneers in years to come.

Enter the words above: Enter the numbers you hear:

All comments are subject to approval before appearing

Further reading

Features & Analysis
Smoke-free Dubai - the big debate

Smoke-free Dubai - the big debate

Will the emirate ever be smoke free? We spark up the conversation...

Behind the scenes at Rolls-Royce

Behind the scenes at Rolls-Royce

In the ten years since BMW relaunched Rolls-Royce, sales of one...

The great escape: JW Marriott Marquis Hotel Dubai

The great escape: JW Marriott Marquis Hotel Dubai

CEO Middle East checked into the JW Marriott Marquis Hotel Dubai...

Most Discussed
  • 24
    World's most pierced man refused entry to the UAE

    Tolerance has its limits everywhere including Dubai and those who considered Dubai a lawless circus were held thank you Dubai authorities... more

    Thursday, 21 August 2014 10:51 PM - Khalil
  • 23
    Baby NOT on board?

    Some of you cry babies need to get your own personal apartments on the plane ! You cry more then the babies I have seen in my travels. LOL more

    Thursday, 28 August 2014 9:10 AM - Jim
  • 21
    Israel “must be punished” over Gaza, says Dubai police chief

    This high moral ground that Mick is talking abt sound very familiar. May I remind Mick that the US & its British ally alone killed over 1 million innocent... more

    Thursday, 7 August 2014 4:12 PM - Mathew