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Afghan film 'Panaah' is directed by Indian and shot in India

Kabul, December 23, 2007 (IANS): Afghan refugees will see their post-9/11 life portrayed in "Panaah", produced by an Afghan, directed by an Indian filmmaker and shot in India and Bulgaria with a large Indian crew.

"After Sep 11, the world understood the meaning of terrorism and that is the message of 'Panaah'," its producer Asad Sikander told IANS, referring to the 2001 terrorist attacks in the US, which had immediate consequences for Afghanistan, where a US-led international military operation still continues.

It has been directed by Mumbai-based Sundeep Mohnot. The movie is Sikander's first in Dari and Pashto, the two official languages of Afghanistan.

Although "Panaah" is yet to be released, Afghan President Hamid Karzai has already been given a private preview of it and, according to Sikander, his response has been very positive and encouraging.

Like many of his compatriots, Sikander abandoned Afghanistan during the start of the Soviet invasion in 1979. He moved to Bulgaria, where he now lives along with his wife and daughter, Diana, after whom he has named his film production company.

The actor studied martial arts and after having won a black belt, as well as several competitions in Bulgaria, Germany and the US, he became a professional trainer of the sport.

His childhood passion for films, especially Hindi films, however, brought him to Mumbai, the city of Indian cinema, to do a course in film production. A combination of martial arts and film studies opened to him the doors to action filmmaking and also made him come into contact with some of the biggest names in Indian films, such as Suneil Shetty.

Sikander made his foray into acting with the release of "Bullet - Ek Dhamaka" in India.

"Unlike 'Bullet...', working in India this time (for 'Panaah') was much easier and smoother," said Sikander, who has plans of releasing four more films, set in India and Afghanistan, next year.

Sikander has become popular in Afghanistan, including in remote villages, where he says, many come and discuss films and TV serials with him and which is what inspires him to continue entertaining Afghan society.

"The new generation wants to be modern, and TV serials and films offer them models of other cultures, clothes, etc.

"The influence (of films) on Afghan society is powerful and positive and I have not the slightest doubt that slowly but surely their effect will bring about a positive change in people here," said Sikander, who has worked with Hollywood stars like Jean Claude Van Damme, Steven Seagal and Brad Pitt.

The Afghan film industry was completely destroyed by 30 years of war in the country and Sikander hopes to bring a new kind of cinema to young Afghans.

However, the actor admits that the task is not an easy one, as the system in Afghanistan desperately lacks a proper distribution mechanism to ensure that the production of a film is an economically viable endeavour.

"The situation is bad and people in Afghanistan are not making films because of (lack of) distribution, which is why we are keen to sell in India and want the support of the Indian film industry," he explained.