Salim Shaheen is a cultural icon in his native Afghanistan. He is also the main thrust of the Afghan film industry. Both a director and an actor, he and his trusted team work together, sometimes on 4 films at the same time. He has dominated a scene that many thought was a country in a cultural void. Sonia Kronlund captures the making of his latest and 111th film. Its his life story and one that flows alongside that of his native land, Afghanistan. Soviet occupation, Civil War, power struggles, deaths, hopes, the Taliban and beyond.
I have studied the history of Afghanistan and its various machinations since the late 90s. I actually finished a dissertation on the political effects of economics on the Soviet occupation and resistance to it. This film explores a more positive side of the country and its complex yet under studied history. Salim is a super hero and super star.
He has been working since the 80s at making films that are a fusion of Bollywood action and hindi melodrama. He has also been a figurehead of hope in a country where little is readily available but this also develops the enigma. His story however draws the dichotomy of the country at its very heart. The problem of male empowerment, social divides, communal separation and overt creeping casual misogyny.
It also reflects how modern media has reaffirmed national identity and aspirations but also reinforced social norms. Kronlund makes the detail matter. Taking the making of the latest film as the point to define how the people of Afghanistan and its ideology is still incoherent. Salim is an idol but also unprepared to let issues of social stigma and female roles get in his way. He causal comment about Kronlund being ‘a man’, is a way of saving face. His treatment and comments about an actresses dad is very deep in its enlightenment.