Escape from Taliban (2003)
Cast: Manisha Koirala, Nawab Khan
Directors: Vijay Nopany, Ujjal Chatterjee
Nutshell: Supposed true story about woman caught up in the horrors of Taliban rule
According to the filmmakers, Escape from Taliban is based on fact. The movie begins with shots of a burning, war-torn terrain while a voice over song laments about how a land that was once paradise and heaven on earth could be reduced to a land of such horror, darkness and inhumanity, especially to women. Scriptwriter Sushmita Bannerjee recounts her own horrific struggle to escape from Afghanistan in the mid 1990’s when life had become insufferable under the barbaric rule of the pre-Jurassic Taliban regime. We see Sushmita writing her memoirs and slipping into flashback about how her journey to paradise turned hideously sour.
Sushmita, a strong willed spirit had defied her parents who had warned her that “a hindu girl could never be happy in marriage to a muslim” and that her notions of building a life with a “muslim money lender” from Afghanistan was pure fantasy. Despite their pleas for sanity in 1988 she elopes with her Afghan boyfriend who promised her that they will be able to build themselves a comfortable life away in his homeland back in Afghanistan. Apparently Sushmita lives in somewhat of a vacuum, as she seems to have little idea of conditions in Afghanistan at the end of the 80s. The country had been ravaged by a decade of vicious civil war and Soviet occupation and was as blighted and devastated as ever – after the departure of the Soviet invaders, the debris that remained spawned the Taliban extremists, aided and abetted by the Pakistani ISI who always thought of Afghanistan as their own little playground.
Anyway, Sushmita who seems fairly well informed otherwise, appears to have little idea that the most amazingly stupid thing she could do with her life would be to pack up and go and settle down in war ravaged Afghanistan. Yet the charms of her rather ugly (by Afghan standards) boyfriend appear to be unrelenting and she decides to chuck her cushy existence in Calcutta to move to Afghanistan – where she reckons she will find her paradise. The moment she arrives, with missiles flying and bodies littering the dusty, crater speckled paths, she realizes that her tourist brochures had misled her and Afghanistan wasn’t quite the Butlins Holiday she had imagined. Worse is to come when she is introduced to her husband’s decidedly odd clan. The women are all giggling submissive morons while the men are grunting sub-humans spouting misogynistic pre-historic babble at the best of times.
The first sign of serious trouble appears on the horizon when the marauding Taliban vice squad is searching for somebody to bully and and they see a chimney with smoke rising from it during the month of Ramadan they scent a victim and hasten to the scene. They find Sushmita cooking supper for her child and when she is questioned in the most animalistic manner she protests that she is not a Muslim. But that isn’t good enough for the Taliban who swear rivers of blood if such a transgression ever occurs again, this after beating Sushmita to a pulp and smashing up everything in sight. The Taliban then ride off in their Indian made Tata Jeeps kicking up a swirl of angry dust as they disappear momentarily into oblivion.
And Escape from Taliban continues in this vein – attempting to shock and outrage viewers by showing them just how animalistic the Taliban are and how bestial almost all Afghan men are, especially when it comes to dealing with women. Time and again we are shown scenes of women being tortured and humiliated at the hands of their men folk during the course of this cheap, sensationalist and exploitative flick. The problem with the film is not so much in that what it is trying to say is wrong in essence – that the treatment of women in this part of the world is beyond barbaric, yet the basic depiction of Afghans and their way of life and their culture and religious practices are horribly misrepresented and ultimately the film comes across as being not too much more than a cheap exploitative shot at maligning not only Afghans but also the Muslim religion as being something belonging to the dark ages. Certainly everyone is entitled to his or her own point of view but this film suffers from having not a shred of objectivity to its approach, which is simply designed to shock and repel. Not for a second does the film take the approach of trying to explain why things might be the way they are or to take them into cultural or social context.
Escape from Taliban smacks of being a cheap cash in on the infamy and notoriety that the Taliban have attained and a pretty snotty attempt at exploiting the current interest. However those who are familiar with Afghan culture and customs will be rolling around the floor in uncontrollable fits of laughter upon viewing this film as it depicts them as something utterly bizarre – anything, but not Afghans. If an Afghan greeted another with an “adaab” as is suggested in the film, they would probably be knocked senseless! Yet this is just one of the many glaringly ridiculous errors that the film-makers have made (along with the Tata jeeps and the incredible accents) in their effort to race to complete the film before the Taliban are no longer flavour of the season. A quite hysterical bit of subtitling occurs when the opening line of the Koran is recited on screen…the subtitles say “exorcism chants” which is clearly an attempt at being both blasé and witty at the expense of a fifth of the worlds population. Each religion may appear to be inexplicably bizarre to the outsider but that doesn’t give that outside the right to judge and mock another’s beliefs and customs.
Besides the moral objections to a film of this outright cheap propagandist nature the film is a shocker in all other respects as well. As well as being totally inaccurate in its depiction of Afghan life, the film is riddled with glaring inaccuracies from beginning to end. Also in all honesty it doesn’t tell us anything new and the increasingly stale message that it does try to deliver is basically that wouldn’t the world be a better place without Muslims – what it ought to be really saying is that wouldn’t the world be a better place without extremists of any form or nature and also that movies that help to spread misconception and hatred aren’t actually doing anybody a favour at all.
Pity to see Manisha Koirala’s career plunge to such depths that she has to accept pretty pathetic stuff like Escape from Taliban, though to be fair, her own role is a fairly meaty one that she does reasonable justice to. Clearly she has seen better days and this film represents her nearing the end of the road, surely. The chap they have dug up for the lead is monstrous and amphibious and should have been left under the slimy rock he was discovered – WHAT a loser, but just what a film of this tawdry nature deserves. Escape from Taliban could be recommended for curiosity seekers or those with an interest in naked exploitative propaganda – but if you are looking for an accurate, trustworthy rendition of life in Afghanistan between 1988 and 1994, we suggest you search elsewhere, true story or not!