Cast: Marina Golbahari, Mohamad Nader Khajeh, Zobeydeh Sahar, Araf Harat
Director: Siddiq Barmak
Nutshell: A girl goes out to find work disguised as a boy in Taliban ruled Afghanistan
Osama became the toast of the western film festival circuit for a number of reasons – firstly, set in Afghanistan, it happens to be the hottest subject of the times and western interest in the area remains at feverish levels. After 9/11, the eyes of the world have been trained on Afghanistan and any shred of information of interest coming out of that country is a story waiting to be devoured by the media. Secondly for a film to come out of Afghanistan at all, with the country being as devastated as it is was nothing short of a miracle even if the financing for the film was crucially from western sources.
The film is set in pre 9/11 Afghanistan with the Taliban firmly establishing itself after a bloody battle for Kabul. In a country full of widows we are shown one such broken family consisting of three women of different generations; a grandmother, a mother and her young pre-pubescent daughter. The Taliban regime has enforced a strict law that women not be allowed to work or indeed to leave their homes without their husband or a man from the family etc. In desperation the grandmother decides to chop off the young girls’ hair in order to disguise her as a boy and send her out to find work so that they can at least earn a loaf of bread to subsist on. Despite the enormous dangers of being found out by the marauding Taliban Ministry of Vice and Morality the young girl is given a job in a chai shop by a kind war veteran but it isn’t long before the boys distinctly girlish ways arouse some suspicion.
In what is jokingly referred to as a drive to collect soldiers for Osama (perhaps 9/11 has occurred during the film?) all the young boys are taken forcibly from their homes for training. Bright eyed young lads plucked from the comfort of their mother’s arms straight to the Taliban training school where they are taught, among other things, how to perform ablutions after a wet dream in the prescribed manner. The young girls disguised as a boy is forced to join the Taliban training school where surely it is a matter of time before her secret is discovered. Soon several children start picking on ‘Osama’ because of his girlishness but ‘he’ survives being outed until the films strongest scene when nature finally has its way.
What follows is a glimpse into the horrors that millions of women have to face living in these regions – bought and sold as they are like cattle or sheep. The real star of the film without doubt is the Afghan backdrop which deceives with its outward beauty; the stunning mountains and the valleys breathtaking though they are cant hide the deep wounds and the ugly scars of war and the general sense of a land decimated, ravaged and torn apart. The hospital if one can call it that – the skeletal ruins that were once buildings, the dirt lined paths that serve as roads for the only cars that are visible; those of the Taliban warlords and their henchmen – It’s humanity at its most desperate and poverty stricken with a quality of life that is in line with what it would have been like in the Dark Ages.
The film is excellently served by its dramatic and startling backdrop which tells quite a story in itself. It is quite an eye opener to see a world that looks like it belongs in the pre-historic age with men pushing carts as though the wheel had just been invented. The most powerful and truly hideous sequence during the deeply disturbing film was when the camera watches from the depths as the young girl is dangled with a harness into a dark well, as a form of punishment. It is best to avoid imposing ones own cultural and moral values onto the lifestyle of others but when ones own country is in serious danger of mutating into a Taliban-like society – the mind must boggle.
Osama is not a great film as such, but it is an important film for shedding some light on the plight of women in this region. It could at times be accused of pandering to western audiences when the few spoken dialogues are mostly oriented at lamenting about the terrible Taliban and little else. The film does however offer a fairly potent glimpse of 21st century Afghanistan – a country ravaged and ripped apart and brutally forced to submit to life in a time warp.