Afghanistan Through The Bollywood Lens! - Filmi Files

Afghanistan Through The Bollywood Lens!

By Dr. Priyaankaa Mathur

With the unfortunate takeover of Afghanistan by the Taliban, there begins a new era of terror and misery, which brings indeed an unfortunate chapter in the world history, if not controlled soon. Filmifiles portrays the spirit of Afghanistan which is known for its culture, values, and the grit that the Afghan people display, which has been well accepted and captured by the Indian cinema over many decades.

Over the centuries the term Afghan has become synonymous with the Pathans who belong to the Pashtun culture, and are known to follow the code of Pashtunwali which dates back to over 2000 years. The code sets out standards for individuals and communal behavior to follow hospitality, justice, courage,honesty, loyalty and honoring women.

The Hindi Film Industry has welcomed the Pathan talent since its early years. From the veteran actor Dilip Kumar, scriptwriter Salim Khan, musician Adnan Sami Khan, to actors Feroz and Sanjay Khan and India’s reigning trio of Shahrukh-Salman-Aamir Khan, they all boast of a Pathan ancestry. No one can deny the Pathan effect andhow their blue-blooded acting genes have made a mark on theIndian cinema.Over the decades they were offered good roles, whichmade them super successful globally.

The Pathans emerged in the Indian cinema from the cusp of the transition from silent films to the talkies.They quickly gained an edge, since they were fluent in Urdu and Hindi and even guided the scriptwriters of Bombay Talkies about the nuances of the language, as per Dilip Saheb’s  autobiography where he mentions about his initial stint in the film industry.

Interestingly India and Afghanistan being the neighbouring countries have always shared a great bond of culture over Bollywood  and Cricket.Bollywood films have been very popular amongst the Afghan audiences, which have portrayed Afghan characters in their best and worst avatars, which were most readily accepted but,sometimes criticized too by the afghan audiences for an incorrect portrayal of real life characters.


Based on the short story written by Rabindranath Tagore, Kabuliwala is considered the mother of all Pathan movies. The film tells the story of a Pathan Rahmat played by legendary actor Balraj Sahani, who traveled to India in search of a living from Kabul leaving behind his mother and a little daughter. He starts selling Dry fruits in India, while he meets a 5-year-old little girl Mini from an affluent family in Calcutta, while her servant introduces them. At first, she is afraid of him, but later they become friends. Rahmat comes to see Mini every day, who sees in her his daughter and gives her pistachio nuts and presents. She would laugh and ask what is in his sack, while he would reply in a nasal tone Hanti, an elephant. 

Eventually, Rahmat is put behind bars for eight years for injuring a man, and returns on the day of Mini’s wedding. He sees her as a bride but feels sad when Mini does not recognize him. He cries deeply remembering his daughter who must have grown up now. The scene is extremely melancholic and depicts Sahni’s superlative acting, which makes the audiences cry bitterly at the end of the film.

The Film portrays Rahmat as a strong loud and energetic Pathan, while at the same time he is sweet, loving, and compassionate to Mini,.while he shares a deep bond with her.  The character has a lot of layers which were very well portrayed by Sahni, for which he received  a huge applause. The film portrays many aspects of the Pathan Culture,  their attire, and household, and how Rahmat deals with his housemates. The film boasted of some wonderful melodies by music director Salil Choudhury including ‘aye mere pyaare watan” and ” Ganga Aye Kahan se” endowed with deep philosophical tones.


One of the most notable Pathan characters was portrayed by Pran Saheb who plays Sher Khan Pathan in Zanjeer. Khan is a don who runs an underworld den,but is true to his code and does everything with honesty.He gets impressed with inspector Vijay Khanna played by Amitabh Bacchan who’s a robust and honest police officer. Khan calls him a tiger, and develops respect for him, while they eventually become friends, after a street fight. Vijay convinces Khan to shut his gambling business and start over as a hardworking man. Khan quits his lucrative business honoring his word to his friend, which shows his true Pathan character since they are simple people of principles, god-fearing, brave, strong, and keep to their commitments.

The character in the film was highly appreciated by the Pathan community which was crafted by Salim Khan while he scripted it along with Javed Akhtar.According to Salim Khan, The Pathan Sher Khan in Zanjeer wouldn’t have been as powerful if it wasn’t played by Pran Saheb. He just brought the Sher Khan to reality both in character and appearance, while he adorns the traditional Pathani kurta-salwar, turban, and gold-embroidered Waistcoat.

The song ‘Yaari hai eemaan mera yaar meri zindagi means ‘Friendship is my religion… for friends I live’, showcases the loyalty and the bond of friendship between Sher Khan and Vijay. The song is an ideal depiction of the Pathan culture in which only men dance in exuberance, the traditional Afghan or ‘Attan’ dance style, with twirling handkerchiefs.The song features the Pashtun instrument Rabab and is a typical Afghan-style melody in both music and vocals. The song indeed happens to be one of the foremost friendship songs of the Indian cinema.

Khuda Gawah

Khuda Gawah happens to be one of the most famous Bollywood Films in Afghanistan.The film portrays Amitabh Bacchan as a brave and patriotic Afghan protagonist, who’s trapped in an Indian prison, while he eventually settles accounts with his enemies. The film was partially shot in Afghanistan where Bacchan along with the entire film crew received a presidential welcome from the President of Afghanistan Dr. Mohammad Najibullah Ahmadzai, who was a Bachchan fan. The film became a source of joy and hope in the then Taliban era when Mujahideen took over Kabul and its national government. The Bollywood fans in Afghanistan played and danced to the tunes of Khuda Gawah songs ‘Main Tujhe Qubool’ in their weddings, while they memorized its dialogues and even learned Hindi language from it.



The film Panipat portrays the Afghan ruler Ahmed Shah Abdali played by Sanjay Dutt who’s portrayed as a strong & fierce character. Although to the Afghanis Abdali is considered as the founding father and a hero figure of Afghanistan,but to Indians, he’s an invader who killed thousands of Maratha warriors in the historic battle of Panipat, thus his portrayal created a controversy.

The Afghan audiences did not approve of the character which was portrayed as vicious, while they argued that Abdali wasn’t like that.According to them from the way he dresses in the film, to the way he speaks, he was nowhere near an Afghan,but looked close to an Arab. The film Panipat even received a letter from the external affairs ministry that the portrayal of Abdali might provoke emotions of Afghans which may exploit to harm the relations between India and Afghanistan.

Clearing the air, Director Ashutosh Gowarikar said in an official statement,that the film Panipat is a patriotic film about an invader and dealt with stopping him from conquering our borders and protecting our motherland.In the wake of the theme Abdali was shown like that, while the dignity of the character was duly maintained.

The Bollywood Films have had their share of Love and Hate relationships with their Afghan audiences.While Panipat stereotyped Afghan King Ahmed Shah Abdali as an invader, who forcibly took the land, Padmavat portrayed the Afghan King Alauddin Khilji as a scheming ruler.While the portrayal of Afridi and Orakzi Pashtun tribes in the film Kesari again received criticism by the Afghan audiences for their inaccurate portrayal of the Afghans and their motivations.Indeed these films certainly needed a better understanding of the real life characters, with a greater sensitivity ofportrayal, so that it wouldn’t have hurt the feelings of our much cherished audiences.


One thought on “Afghanistan Through The Bollywood Lens!

  1. Interesting! Was not aware of Afghani origin of some of the Bollywood big names. The best portrayal of course was by Balraj Sahni in Kabuliwala.

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