Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Indian Film Captures the Capital

A Bollywood film and the styles it has inspired are all the rage in a city where watching movies was once forbidden.
By Rahimullah Samander

Kabul has gone crazy over the latest hit film from Bollywood. Tere Naam, an Indian film, has much of the city’s population enthralled.


Pictures of the film’s stars – Salman Khan and Bhumika Chawla – are being used to sell everything from clothing and makeup to food. Music from the film and its movie posters are hot commodities.


Tere Naam, which means “In Your Name" in Hindi, looks set to surpass the Hollywood blockbuster Titanic as the Afghan moviegoing public’s favourite. Its characters are becoming Kabul’s top fashion icons.


In 2001, Titanic was so popular that one of major bazaars was renamed in its honour, despite a ban by the Taleban on watching films. Men sought to have their hair styled like Leonardo DiCaprio’s sweeping locks in the film, even though wearing long hair was prohibited. The fundamentalist regime arrested more than two dozen barbers in Kabul for cutting young men's hair in the style of the Titanic hero.


Now, that’s all changed. “Men used to want Titanic hairstyles but now the Tere Naam style has taken over,” said barber Asadullah.


Tere Naam’s star, Salman Khan, wears long, straight hair reaching down to his ears before shaving his locks near the end of the film. The Romeo-and Juliet saga tells the story of a bad boy who is transformed by his love for a Hindu scholar's daughter.


Moviegoing is once again a popular pastime in the capital, especially among men. Tere Naam has been shown in several of the capital’s cinemas since it was released late last year and has been broadcast on television twice. The soundtrack from the film can be heard everywhere in the city.


What is it about the Bollywood melodrama – which leaves the heroine dead and the hero in a psychiatric hospital – that has transfixed Kabul?


"[It’s because] the movie star loves this girl like crazy, and he became crazy for her,” said Mustafa, who runs a tile shop plastered with images from the film.


But the film also stands out from the escapist fare that often comes out of India. Its message is darker than most – the heroine commits suicide after being forced to marry a man she doesn't love, dashing any hope of a happy ending. In Afghanistan, where forced marriages are not unusual and forbidden love can mean risking death, the movie has particular resonance.


In an interview with The Times of India, Tere Naam director Satish Kaushik said the film differed from other Bollywood extravaganzas because "the story is real; it actually happened to two people in love".


In Afghanistan, Radio Arman programme manager Masood Sanjar estimated that that about 40 per cent of the requests his station now receives are for songs from the film. And CD and DVD wholesaler Mussadiq said that he has sold 5,000 copies of the movie and 15,000 copies of the music from the film.


Other vendors agree that Tere Naam is a hot seller. "When other movies are released, there are good sales for two or three days, whereas I have sold 20 to 30 copies of Tere Naam per day for the past three months,” said Najibullah.


It seems everyone is trying to capitalise on the film’s success. Clothing seller Mohammad Wali said he sold 127 pairs of trousers with the name Tere Naam stitched into them in just one week. Mohammad Zarif, who sells spectacles, said he has been doing a brisk business in knock-offs of the impenetrable black sunglasses Khan wears in the film.


Stickers and posters - some with the actors’ heads obviously transplanted onto other people's bodies - are everywhere.


Many Afghans have long been devoted Bollywood fans, even when watching such films was forbidden by the Taleban. Pirated DVDs of Hindi films are cheap and widely available in Kabul, and many Afghans who have spent time in neighbouring Pakistan understand Urdu and Hindi.


For years, Kabul television aired a Hindi movie every Friday night, with simultaneous translations into Pashtu or Dari, before such broadcasts were suspended by the Taleban regime.


But Tere Naam looks set to eclipse any of India’s previous offerings.


Asked to explain the film’s popularity, Samir, a CD seller in central Kabul, said simply, "I like this movie because it has a very good love story and very good songs."


Teenager Harun said he has seen the movie three times. What attracted him to the film? “I like Salman Khan's hairstyle," he said.


Rahimullah Samander is an editor/trainer with IWPR in Kabul.