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‘Jirga’, to be premiered in Toronto, shot in Afghanistan after Pakistan refused

As that film, the Australian production Jirga, has its premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), some of the credit ought to go to Pakistan’s ISI for choice of location

world Updated: Sep 07, 2018 22:30 IST
Anirudh Bhattacharyya
Anirudh Bhattacharyya
Hindustan Times, Toronto
Jirga,Afghanistan,Movie
A still from the Australian film, Jirga, which will have its premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival.(TIFF)

A Western film shot entirely in the forbidding terrain of Afghanistan is a unique project, given the security situation in that country.

As that film, the Australian production Jirga, has its premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), some of the credit ought to go to the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR), the media arm of Pakistan's powerful military, for the choice of location.

Director Benjamin Gilmour initially wanted to shoot in Pakistan, a country he was familiar with, rather than Afghanistan, for obvious reasons. ISPR's censors didn’t cooperate, nixing the proposal, deeming the script too "politically sensitive" and adding the critique that there “wasn’t enough romance in it anyway”.

A still from the Australian film, Jirga, which will have its premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival. (TIFF)

Gilmour, consequently, spent two months shooting in Afghanistan - in Kabul, the central part of the country showcasing its incredible landscape, and Jalalabad.

This could be a first in many years, Gilmour said. “I can't think of a feature drama shot entirely in Afghanistan (in recent years)," he added.

He said he was “very suspicious" of the usual Hollywood offerings, with locales such as Nevada, New Mexico, even Mexico or Morocco standing in Afghanistan. "If you're going be a truth-seeker, authenticity is worth the risk,” Gilmour said in an interview.

Authenticity isn’t just provided by the setting but even the Afghan cast, some of whom are former Taliban members who left that joyless extremist group due to “their interest in arts, music and filmmaking”, Gilmour said.

They brought to Jirga a “real-life experience”. The film is about a former Australian soldier, Mike (played by Sam Smith), repenting a raid on an Afghan village in the Kandahar region, where he killed an innocent man, and returning years later to submit before the village council or jirga for punishment.

A still from the Australian film, Jirga, which will have its premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival. (TIFF)

Filming in Kandahar wasn't possible, given how it’s Taliban central, but Jalalabad wasn't a safe zone either.

“It was nerve-wracking," Gilmour said, given Daesh or Islamic State was operating in mountains nearby. “There was the frequent sound of gunfire,” he said, and the proximity of the terrorists meant the ever-present threat of the town being overrun by them as filming was underway in 2016.

“We were careful to be very subtle about over movements, we didn’t want to expose ourselves too much,” he said.

The film, Gilmour hoped, will provide audiences with a “rare chance to see Afghanistan in a way they may not have seen. It’s a unique side of the country." That includes scenes at Band-e Amir National Park in Bamiyan province, with its gorgeous blue lakes nestled within the Hindu Kush mountains.

Gilmour was thrilled at the platform that TIFF offers, which can help amplify the central message of Jirga. “We can create some sort of reconciliation,” he felt.

First Published: Sep 07, 2018 22:00 IST