This Friday’s film, the documentary Khoob Asti Afghanistan? (Are You All Right Afghanistan?), is a departure from my typical Bollywood fare. Last week, we attended the 99th edition of the FD Zone in South Mumbai. The weekly program’s purpose is to further the appreciation for documentary, short, and animated films in India.
For the 99th edition, the FD Zone curators took viewers on a “Journey to Afghanistan” using a combination of official Indian government newsreel footage from 1966 and the documentary Khoob Asti Afghanistan from 2007. The contrast between the two sets of images taken more than 40 years apart was stark.
Khoob Asti Afghanistan? is the deeply personal journey of Indian director Soumitra Ranade, who spent his teen years in Kabul. He returned to India in 1980 and had not returned to Afghanistan until 2007, when he made this film. The highlight of the film is Ranade’s meeting with teen boys outside the home where he once lived. In many ways, these boys reflect Ranade’s and Afghanistan’s histories simultaneously. The boys are the same age as Ranade when he lived in Kabul; they play like he or any other teenager would play. Yet, the boys’ experiences are marred by war and reflect the brutality that accompanies it. One boy recounts a tale of locals who blow themselves up for a cause. The matter-of-fact account reflects that violence is a daily experience. In the end, viewers are left wondering the fate of these boys, a narrative arc that must remain unresolved.
Where so many documentaries of Afghanistan claim objectivity, this film is unapologetically subjective. We see the director’s pain at the destruction of the neighborhood where he played as a boy. We see the complicated feelings he has toward the American forces occupying the country. We see the changes wrought by war, the human price paid in blood on all sides of the conflict.
After the audience viewed the films, they asked the director questions. The Q&A sessions after films are always lively, complicated mixtures of respect for the film maker on the one hand and challenging questions on the other. The director fielded questions as mundane as “what’s the thing that surprised you most?” and as complex as “who will remove the land mines?”
The FD Zone program will mark its 100th edition this weekend with a retrospective on Indian music and musicians. The program is sponsored by the Films Division of India. The program occurs weekly at 4 pm on Saturdays. The program is free and open to the public.
RR II Theater
Phase II Building