The Taliban’s human face

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The Taliban’s human face

In 2001, after filming in a northeast Afghan prison, the Indian documentary maker Kabir Khan was about to leave after a rare opportunity to interview Taliban prisoners there. One of the prisoners asked him to wait. In the minutes that followed, the filmmaker saw the Taliban fighter calling his family for the first time in five years and talking to his young daughter. That was the moment Mr. Khan believed he saw the human face of the Taliban, and he immediately decided to make a feature film. Years later, Mr. Kabir was standing before an audience at the Pusan International Film Festival, which was more than willing to hail the director for an extraordinary film that was based on this very personal experience.
“Kabul Express” is the story of a Pakistani Taliban prisoner, an Afghan driver, two Indian reporters and an American reporter, who develop an improbable friendship over 36 hours after they are thrown together in Kabul. The Taliban prisoner is all too human in the film, looking constantly for the love of his family; although he is indignant that “America is trying to fill up the Middle East with Coke.” However, the two Indian reporters argue with him that it is not Coke but Pepsi, and this becomes a running joke in the film. At one point an Indian reporter and the Taliban prisoner fight over a drop of Coke, and name a donkey they find sauntering in the Afghan mountains Osama bin Laden.
The film mixes humor and drama, based on what the director heard in the Afghan prison. After the screening, the audience in Busan became Mr. Khan’s fans for good in an unexpected director-meets-audience session. “Humor is more profound than any serious tone,” Mr. Khan said, who hesitated to use the word “message,” because it was too “pompous.”
Noting North Korea’s nuclear test on Oct. 9, Mr. Khan said there was a similar political situation between India and Pakistan as there is between North Korea and South Korea. “No country would understand North Korea more than South Korea,” Mr. Khan continued, “I understood the Pakistan Talibans because we speak the same language.”
Mr. Khan was threatened by the Taliban while making the film and his crew was given 60 armed guards by the Afghan government.
“Kabul Express” was a hit at the Toronto Film Festival, where it had its world premiere. Critics in Busan were equally enthusiastic. Mr. Khan’s next feature film is his take on the political deadlock in Burma. He has also contributed to a film about the murder in Pakistan of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl.

by Chun Su-jin
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