Siddiq Barmak’s ‘Osama’


Title: Osama (2003)

Written/Directed by: Siddiq Barmak 

cinematographer: Ebrahim Ghafori 

Composer: Mohammad Reza Darvishi 

Synopsos: A young Afghani girl (Marina Golbahari) who’s forced to assume the identity of a boy in order to support her mother and grandmother (all the male members of the family are dead). Her hair is cropped and she assumes the name Osama, and quickly lands a job as an assistant to a store owner. Things go awry when all the boys in her village are corralled and sent to a religious school which also operates as a Taliban boot camp.

Her name is Osama and her story is true – Marina Golbahari, an amateur actor like rest of the cast members, was found in the streets of Kabul by Siddiq Barmak. Osama is the first film made on the Afghan soil since the fall of the Taliban. Film-making, previously was banned in the country. – Written for screen and then also directed by Siddiq Barmak, Osama in slow pace and with a close up shot at the grim atmosphere, in which Afghan people lived under the reign of Taliban regime takes the viewer deep into core of evil’s mind. What I find interesting in the picture is that Barmak as a master film-maker has audaciously taken the advantage of the art. It’s easy to claim why another film based on oppression. But it is films like Osama that answers such question.

Director Siddiq Barmak, after reading a newspaper about a young girl who disguised herself as a boy, immediately made a decision to pen the script. And with the help of Iranian director Mohsen Makhmalbaf, Barmak was able to obtain $100.000 and 35mm cameras. Barmak has punctiliously depicted the systematic abuse of women, obviously in bold manner as a writer/director, in every area of their lives. Taliban regime in Afghanistan with their nauseating rules not only on women, but the whole nation in entire, took the country back to the stone-age. With their repulsive and unpalatable agendas and under their grim and hopeless religious extremism women in Afghanistan were treated like prisoners. This harrowing drama of Barmak pans through the alleys and demolished towns of the nation much like a horror picture. What’s interesting in the film is that how Barmak has artistically achieved his goal. – Few scenes of the film in the beginning, introduces to us only the Taliban in voice overs. Their man often stays off screen. – Perhaps that’s how one depicts evil.

In tears one night, the twelve year old girl’s mother says, “I wish God hadn’t created women”. She lost her husband in the war and her only brother during the Russian invasion. Arduously she manages to bring food on the table; in secrets she, along with her young daughter works in a hospital, which is as crippled like the country and the citizens. Women under Taliban’s regime were forbidden to work. The mother in the dimly lit room, shot as if it’s a painting, cries that she has no son to help them survive. The little girl’s grandmother in the corner listening makes a decision: The little girl has to cut her hair and starts dressing like a boy. She must become a boy to save her family –, Barmak’s artistic stroke here takes the film further emotionally. – A scene in the hospital corridor, after patients are forced to leave the hospital by Taliban, Barmak’s camera is set still, capturing a crippled boy, limping with his back towards us. The only sound is his feet against the rough floor of the corridor. For long, we look after the boy, limping in the corridor, alone.

Barmak, has intentionally scratched the term hope with a marker red in color. It’s an audacious act of a film-maker to not give his audience a sense of hope this time. But that’s because Barmak’s characters are situated in a world that is dark and hopeless. Like in the corridor of the hospital hope in the film is limping on. – Barmak’s cinematographer Ebrahim Ghafori has captured the atmosphere in which fear has been taking refuge for years. From the slow long shots and often in wide shots, Ghafori comprehends the gravity of the onus on his shoulders. His camera has captured, as if art itself is in the verge of tears.  – Film-making and its process is complex, but to shoot a film in a complex situation and harsh winter, its process is priceless and nothing but astonishing. It’s a journey all by itself.

Osama is poetic, wonderful, bold, magical, dark and simply magnificent in every level and therefore we have the right to actually forget for hour and half how the film is created and how, by the film-makers and actors, it is made. – Barmak’s powerful take on the true world with tough-mindedness presents in the end, albeit you find yourself sitting in tears, a sense of understanding. Perhaps it’s sometimes important to have a sense of understanding instead of hope all the time. – I still see the girl’s braids planted in a flower pot as watered by an intravenous drip. I still hear the sound of feet while jump roping in the cell.