How famous is Bollywood in Afghanistan

Film tip “Master of Dreams”: Afghanistan's cinema legend defies the Taliban

Have you ever seen such a large crowd in Afghanistan laugh so easily? As if spellbound, the men look at a movie screen. There a man is shown using his machine gun to hunt down a number of villains. Actually brutal, but somehow also funny, especially pretty improvised. In the next scene, the hero sings a slutty song in full playback.

The Steven Spielberg of Afghanistan

No great art, one might think. But with such works the main actor, director and producer Salim Shaheen makes countless people happy in the country ravaged by war and terror. With stories that reflect their lives and at the same time give hope. And that for a good 30 years. Some call him the "Steven Spielberg of Afghanistan".

Just like that blockbuster director, Shaheen knows how to enchant people, albeit under completely different circumstances. When traveling through the country, he is greeted by cheering fans. After the fall of the Taliban, which closed all cinemas because of the ban on images in their radical interpretation of Islam, he experienced the high point of his career and made up to ten films a year. Shaheen is still doing well right now. That alone shows how much his dream factory is influenced by the political situation in the Hindu Kush.

Art and life are mutually dependent

The French documentary filmmaker and long-time Afghanistan correspondent Sonia Kronlund accompanied Shaheen on the filming of his 110th film. A job that primarily revolves around his own life: from the misunderstood young cinema fan to the Soviet-friendly soldier who is the only one in his unit to survive an attack by the mujahideen. For the Frenchwoman, this is one of many starting points to investigate the question of how art and life in Shaheen's work are mutually dependent.

His latest production may also be saturated with pathos and kitsch: Shaheen describes the material conditions of his work soberly in front of the camera: “Hollywood? Bollywood? Afghanistan is nothingwood. There is neither money nor equipment here. ”Nonetheless, the cinema industry in the USA and India are like beacons for his work, which ranges roughly between trash of the“ Rambo ”style and love-chatting.

Like an improvisation group of students

When Shaheen and his team get started in the area around central Afghani Bamiyan, where he was born in the mid-1960s, one feels more like an improvisation group of students than a film team: instead of professional actors, relatives become , Friends and fans cast. Many even pay to be able to work with their idol once.

Shaheen keeps the strings in hand in front of and behind the camera. Between the takes with the hand-held camera in front of the Afghan mountain slopes, he directs the amateur actors like a sergeant, his bloodcurdling “Action!” Can be heard over and over again. For a brief moment the brutal everyday life of the country seems to be hidden

Cruel reality of Islamist cultural barbarism

But it is precisely this often cruel reality that Kronlund repeatedly brings back to consciousness. For example, when she shows pictures of a terrorist attack that took place elsewhere during filming. Above all, however, by repeatedly becoming a scene actor herself and questioning Shaheen's fearlessness in the face of the dangers of everyday life and his living conditions, but also luring them out of the political reserve.

Against the backdrop of the destroyed Buddha statues by Bamiyan, he attacks the cultural barbarism of the Taliban, but at the same time shows himself to be a supporter of conservative traditions when he refuses to have his two women filmed or even to give their names.

He creates dreams out of nowhere

"I admire that Shaheen keeps making films as if it were a necessity of life, with tremendous energy and unwavering belief in what he does," says Kronlund. “Regardless of the quality of his films, his work brings joy to the Afghan people because it gives them a face and a voice that they cannot find anywhere else. This man has managed to create dreams out of nowhere. "

Nevertheless, Kronlund's film should not be understood as an homage. It shows the "magician" not only as a visionary and friend of the common people, but also in his downright childlike and domineering megalomania. At the same time, one can experience again and again what great dangers the superstar and his colleagues expose themselves with their artistic work, which is quite harmless from a western point of view. In order to defy the Taliban, which is still influential to this day, you may need the disposition of someone like Shaheen.

Info: “Master of Dreams” (France / Germany 2017), a film by Sonia Kronlund, with Salim Shaheen, Sonia Kronlund and others, languages: Persian / Dari and French with German subtitles, 85 minutes, ages twelve and up.

Immediately in the cinema