Afghanistan’s love affair with Bollywood

Published: April 20, 2010
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Kabul Express was filmed in Afghanistan and starred Pakistani actor Salman Shahid as well. (Publicity)

Kabul Express was filmed in Afghanistan and starred Pakistani actor Salman Shahid as well. (Publicity)

KARACHI: A love for Bollywood films is shared on both sides of the Durand Line.

Could Afghanistan be the next market for Indian films to be officially distributed in the country? No matter where in the world you are, if you’re a desi, there is a chance someone associates you with Amitabh Bachchan. That is the impact that Bollywood has around the world. Across the border in Afghanistan, Indian films have continued to be popular through the decades, despite years of civil war and foreign invasions.

As director Kabir Khan, who shot his 2006 film Kabul Express in the country, told the Indo-Asian News Service (IANS), “People in Afghanistan will kill for a Hindi film. They watch nothing but Hindi films. People there have learned to speak Hindi only by watching Hindi movies and Afghans will give their life for Hindi cinema.” While the screening of Indian fllms in Pakistan was legalised only a few years ago, Afghanistan’s main source of the latest Shah Rukh Khan film comes from pirated prints smuggled into the country. Even though several films have been shot in Afghanistan, including the abysmal Khuda Gawah (1992), it does not register on the Bollywood distribution map as yet.

“Despite people’s craze for Hindi movies, the Bollywood market is ‘next to nil’ in Afghanistan,” Sunny Khanna, a senior vice-president at Balaji Motion Pictures told IANS. “In the last four to five years, no movie has had an official theatrical release there unless someone bought the satellite rights (for TV).” “No movie (from India) goes to Afghanistan. There is no distributor or Bollywood representative who will release a movie there. It is very rare that a movie goes there or we are approached by them.”

Indian films are usually shown on Afghan TV channels.

Afghan’s media landscape has transformed over the past few years, and the country now boasts about a half-dozen television channels. Local spin-offs of popular television shows such as “America’s Next Top Model” and “American Idol” have found a niche market in the country.

However television channels have run into issues with the government and now have to employ censors who ‘pixilate’ any content that people would find objectionable. While reality television has taken off in Afghanistan, alternative forms of music have become popular. The guitarist for the rock band Kabul Dreams told the BBC in January, “Playing rock music is a risk but we want to play in Afghanistan”. Kabul Dreams said that in the absence of a local music scene, young Afghans listen to music from India and Pakistan. Haniya Aslam (of the Pakistani band Zeb and Haniya) was told by Afghan friends that the duo’s Dari song “Paimona Bitte” from their 2008 album Chup had become a huge hit across the border.

Last week, the Xinhua news agency reported that 17 cinemas existed in Kabul before the Taliban took over the country. Along with Indian cinema, Pashto films and telefilms are very popular in Afghanistan. Afghan investors have also commissioned Pashto filmmakers based in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa to make telefilms that can be sold via DVD.

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Reader Comments (1)

  • Fayyaz Alam
    Apr 20, 2010 - 3:48AM

    Good luck to Bollywood. First we should admit that Bollywood is far ahead than Lollywood. Then we should look at our own strenghts & weaknesses. I think our Pashto films are already doing well and after the demise of Taliban, Pakistani Pashto film industry has thrived. We have even Afghans investing in Peshawar based industry and the market for Pashto films includes even the Middle East. Let us wish well to our Indian neighbours and make our own strategy. Our Pashto films can focus on Afghanistan, Dubai & Bradford (UK). Our Punjabi films should be made in a way to penetrate Indian Punjab and Punjabi communities all over the world (Many Punjabi stage actors are well known in Indian Punjab & Southal UK). Our Urdu film industry should be shifted to Karachi where films can be produced that can target Indian Hindi market (remember Indian’s love of Umar Sharif’s Bakra QistooN pe, Hasina Moeen’s Daramas & Shoib Mansoor’s work?).

    We can also make a lot of money by promoting our Singers through our own companies or in collaboration with Indian companies. Atif Aslam, Adnan Sami and many others could have been a big revenue earner if they were strategically pushed by Pakistan on South Asian stage.

    Successful nations achieve things through planning. Iran makes 8 films a year just for International festivals. This has made the world take notice of Iran. Hugo Chavez of Venezuala has recently put millions of dollars aside to portray positive image of his country men through films (in response to Hollywood). North Korean dictator even abducted a South Korean film maker to get some quality films coming from North Korea! Our ‘soft image’ thirst can be quenched through films. Films can even romanticise the poverty in our society (eg Slumdog Millionaire). We don’t even need to lie to portray a fine image. Just do it artistically.

    We need to focus on quality to achieve all that. As a result, our actors will be picked up by Hollywood within a decade or so. That’s when image will start to change. Just create a dent in that image now to start in the right direction. Recommend

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