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Afghan film on kite flying was shot ‘guerilla style’

The Black Kite was shot entirely in Kabul and during that period there were three terror attacks in the city including one in which the lead actress was at the venue of a suicide bombing.

world Updated: Sep 12, 2017 07:19 IST
Anirudh Bhattacharyya
Anirudh Bhattacharyya
Hindustan Times, Toronto
Afghanistan,Tarique Qayumi,The Black Kite
(Courtesy TIFF)

There are hazards to filmmaking, but terrorist attacks aren’t considered to be a common hurdle in the process.

Unless, of course, the movie is set entirely in the Afghan capital of Kabul, as in the case of Vancouver-based Afghan-origin director Tarique Qayumi’s The Black Kite, which had its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF).

The Dari language film is also the first fiction feature made as an Afghanistan co-production (along with Canada) to get to this prestigious showcase, a bit of history for the conflict-ridden country. Given the challenges of filming in Kabul, it was shot “guerrilla style” in just 14 days, the director said in an interview.

The film focuses on the life of Arian and his boyhood obsession with kites, one that stays with him till the end. That’s also a metaphor for Afghanistan, from a nation with a sense of “freedom” under King Zahir Shah, and the decades of chaos and killing that have consumed the country after he was deposed in a coup in 1973.

From freely seeing kites of multiple hues and designs soar skyward as a child, Arian assists the mujahideen battling the Communists in Afghanistan, using the colours of the kites he flies as signals. Ironically, the joy he finds in this activity is snuffed out as the ultimate killjoys, the Taliban, declare kite-flying forbidden.

Arian defies them, to introduce his daughter to the delight but by flying a black kite on moonless nights. “He wants to give the sense of childhoodness to his daughter at the risk of his own life,” Qayumi said.

A still from the Afghan film, The Black Kite, which had its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival. (Courtesy TIFF)

The story features live action, embellished with animation and archival documentary footage. The project was obviously close to Qayumi, who himself arrived in Canada as a refugee in 1983.

“Storytelling is a means of healing the nation,” he said. He described it as his “love song to Afghanistan and the Afghan people”.

The youth of his nation have been robbed of their sense of place in history, through the depredatory years of the Taliban. The film, which traces itself through the country’s recent decades, attempts to play a small part in filling in those blanks.

“It is important for a nation to have an identity and for it to have a memory,” Qayumi said.

Qayumi hopes the film will play at two or three cinemas in Kabul, including a couple that feature Bollywood offerings. The idea of the film started with a short story he wrote in 2003, but germinated in December 2014 as he was completing a lengthy stint in Kabul, where he worked for the Afghan channel TOLO.

A still from the Afghan film, The Black Kite, which had its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival. (Courtesy TIFF)

The brief period of filming was followed by two more years of securing financing and editing it, before presenting it to the world at TIFF.

As for those terrorist intrusions, Qayumi said he and his crew heard an explosion in Kabul while they were filming on a mountaintop near the city, and on another occasion, there was a Taliban attack two or three streets down from where he was in pre-production.

The worst involved a suicide bombing at the French Cultural Center, at an event screening a film on suicide bombers.

The film’s lead actress Leena Alam, well known in her country, was present there and was traumatized by the tragedy, which killed six civilians. Qayumi said, “She was in bad shape, and then she showed up the next day. On time and ready to shoot…”

Alam’s reason for persisting was simple, Qayumi explained: “No, we’re going to shoot this because they want us to stop and we’re not going to stop.”

Watch | Trailer for the Afghan film The Black Kit

And there lies the heart of what this film means beyond its narrative: An attempt by the creative class to rejuvenate Afghanistan’s cultural ethos, and with some success, as this global debut for this Afghan film exemplifies. The film’s description itself point to “a beautiful focus on the power of playing and imagination to get through crisis times”.

First Published: Sep 12, 2017 07:18 IST