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Cannes winner is an Aamir fan

The maker of Osama, Afghanistan's first official entry and winner of Special mention at Cannes this year, Siddiq Barmak is a self-confessed admirer of Aamir Khan.

india Updated: Jul 22, 2003 13:37 IST
Manjula Negi
Manjula Negi

He is the Afghan version of our very own Anand Patwardhan, in that all his films have been banned or gotten into trouble with the authorities. And his latest film, Osama has created a furore of another kind. A full length feature, it bagged a special mention in the Camera D'Or section (meant for first time filmmakers) at the Cannes this year.

Meet Siddiq Barmak, the 40-year-old Afghan who confesses to being a great admirer of the inimitable Hindi film hero Aamir Khan ("he's a great humanist and a very kind man," he says) and the maker of the Afghan-Japanese production, Osama - which was purchased for the world market at Cannes.

A remarkable feat because Osama is the first film to be officially selected from Afghanistan at Cannes. In fact, the nascent film industry has only 42 features to its credit till date - a probable reason why "Indian films are really popular" in the seven odd theatres that exist in the country!

Hollywood films too have a standing but it is Bollywood which reigns supreme in Afghanistan, mentions Barmak. "Aamir Khan, Shah Rukh Khan, Karisma Kapoor are all well-known. In fact, Aamir gifted Lagaan to us. I met him at Locarno last year and he's a wonderful human being," he reiterates once more, clearly touched by the warmth of the Indian star.

Back to his film Osama, which revolves around the atrocities committed against women under the Taliban rule and is based entirely on true incidents. "I'd come across a newspaper article written by a senior teacher in Afghanistan where he mentioned a young girl who was so keen on studies that she actually cut her favourite hair in order to go to school disguised as a boy," says Barmak.

"My basic story came from that, but the trauma that women go through is also real - often worse," he continues though things have improved marginally since the fall of Taliban. "Girls can go to schools and women can work in offices. But the trouble is that there aren't many jobs in the market. That is a big problem in our country."

Osama took five-and-a-half-months of research and pre-production but was shot in just 42 days flat, with a non-professional cast. In fact, the director had chosen not to put them through any acting workshops because when he filmed the incidents, he wanted their reactions to be "natural. I wanted them to be surprised and scared as the situation demanded and you can see the result yourself. One had worked with them prior to the shooting but that was to ensure that they trusted me completely as a director. It is new style of acting that I explored in the film," says Barmak.

Hitherto, Barmak's films have been documentaries and shorts, created while he was still a student at the Moscow Film Institute. Both his shorts, The Wall and Circle are anti-war films - the former being banned by Russian government and, the latter by the Afghan government.

Barmak, who has been heading the Afghan Film Institution for several years also had to go in exile when the Taliban came to power in 1996. "They put me under house arrest one day and told me to stay put there until they came for me again. But I escaped by a back door, going to the Northern provinces of Afghanistan and from there leaving for Pakistan for the next couple of years. It was only after the fall of the Taliban that I was able to return to my country."

The son of a police officer, Barmak is now looking at giving a boost to the Afghan film industry by inviting foreign crews to shoot in Afghanistan and to use the facilities available there. "Though there is still trouble in some places, most of the provinces in Afghanistan are fully secure now for visitors."

Barmak should know. After all, he's the one who made controversial cinema under oppressive circumstances and survived to tell his tales.

First Published: Jul 22, 2003 13:37 IST