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Film Industry Could Play Key Role in Reviving Links Between India, Afghanistan - 2001-12-15

India has launched intensive efforts to re-establish links with the people of Afghanistan. Two diplomatic teams have visited the capital Kabul and the Indian embassy is expected to reopen later in the month. But in addition to diplomats, the nation's popular film industry is expected to play a key role in reviving links between India and Afghanistan.

After the Taleban takeover of Afghanistan in 1996 such sounds were banned in the country, by a regime that believed seeing movies and listening to music was immoral.

The reopening of Kabul's leading movie theater, after the Northern Alliance took control of the city last month, excited not just the city's residents - but also India's massive film industry, popularly known as Bollywood.

That is not surprising. The second film to be screened in a packed Kabul theater was a Hindi movie. Although most Afghans do not understand the Hindi language, these films are hugely popular in Afghanistan and until the 80s it was one of the largest overseas markets for Bollywood films.

Afghans are not unusual in this regard. The appeal of Hindi movies extends across large parts of Asia and these films are widely screened in several Asian countries. Indian film stars are icons in many neighboring nations. The typical Hindi movie is a romance, a "lived happily ever after" story played out by glamorous heroines and heroes against a backdrop of songs and dances.

Anil Nagrath, spokesman for the Association of Motion Picture and Television Programmers in Bombay says Indian film stars have a massive fan following in Afghanistan, even though movies were not screened for several years. He says Hindi films are bound to find a huge audience in a country starved of entertainment for long years.

"Obviously it will take time to build the infrastructure, but people who have been deprived of the entertainment are really going to throng to it in massive doses to watch such films," he says, "because the Hindi film basically has the whole entertainment package. You have music, you have action, you have entertainment, you have emotions."

As the conflict in Afghanistan winds down, Bollywood is already eyeing it as a potential market. One film producer, Aruna Irani, has already planned to release her new film Yeh Dil Aashiqanaa - "The romantic heart" simultaneously in Kabul and New Delhi in mid-January and says the profits in Afghanistan will be donated to help Afghan children.

So powerful is the appeal of Hindi films, that India's foreign ministry is even using them as a diplomatic tool. The two diplomatic missions that visited Kabul in recent weeks carried tons of medicines and dozens of videos of the latest Hindi films and audio tapes of popular film songs.

The gift was inspired by Indian television reports showing Afghans thronging a movie theater in Kabul and Hindi film posters plastered on walls in the background.