Some people love Allah, some people love women but, I only love cinema ~ Salim Shaheen
Salim Shaheen, a charming and enigmatic filmmaker from Afghanistan, has produced and directed 110 films and Sonia Kronlund a French radio journalist documented a film on him by spending time in Afghanistan while he was making his next. Salim Shaheen along with his co-star Qurban Ali entered with a bang and entertained the audience just after the screening of Nothingwood at the Jio MAMI Mumbai Film Festival 2017, by singing “Kaun hai joh sapno mein aaya, kaun hai joh dil mein samaya, jo jhuk gaya aasma bhi, ishq mera rang laya, O Piya….”
Here’s a snippet from the Q&A session that followed the screening:
Is this your first visit to India?
Salim Shaheen – I’ve been here atleast 20 times, as you are aware I am a big fan of Dharmendraji.
Why only Dharmendraji and not Amitabhji?
Salim Shaheen – Amitabh Bachchan is my friend, a very talented actor and a lot of people in Afghanistan respect him, but Dharmendraji is my love. He is my heart and soul.
Are you aware of the Khans and the new young breed of actors?
Salim Shaheen – Yes, of course, there is Shah Rukh Khan, Salman Khan, Aamir Khan. Amongst the newbies, I know them all but more than them, I know their grandparents and their great-grandparents.
Are you promoting cinema in Afghanistan by giving youth a chance to make films by providing equipment and resources?
Qurban Ali – Yes, there were like 100 staff members in Afghanistan who love movies and all of them have been part of our films.
How are you convincing your actresses to be part of your film?
Salim Shaheen (chuckles) – I have two companies in Afghanistan, we have made 110 films with great difficulty and 100-200 people have even died, but still, we have a lot of love for cinema and so we will continue making films till we are alive.
How have you managed to keep your love for cinema alive in spite of so many difficulties and struggles?
Salim Shaheen –Some people love Allah, some people love women but, I only love cinema.
How did the director Sonia Kronlund meet you?
Qurban Ali – Sonia Kronlund, came and met us in 2012, she shot with us for a few days and went back and then again in 2014 she returned and completed shooting the film. She is a brave filmmaker.
Salim Shaheen – A big hand of applause for Sonia, a brave and strong woman who came all the way to Afghanistan to make a film.
You have a very strong voice in Afghanistan, would you like to bring about a social change in Afghanistan through your voice?
Qurban Ali – We always see the problems in Afghanistan, on TV and everywhere but we can’t do much about it. We are not stupid people, we don’t have big budgets to make big films, to show to the world. It’s difficult for us to even get visas to show our films to other countries. So it’s a big problem and very difficult. Also, the other big problem is that we don’t have cinema in Afghanistan so there are problems to play or screen the films. So the question arises, if there is no money then why make a film. Salim has made his films by spending from his own pocket; there were no sponsors to give him money.
What have the budgets of your films been?
Salim Shaheen – It differs sometimes, 3 lacs, at times 1 lac sometimes Rs.50,000/-
And the most expensive, big-budget film?
Salim Shaheen – Approximately 80 lacs.
What was your first reaction when you saw this documentary?
Salim Shaheen – There were about 2000 people who attended the screening; I was very scared as I had no idea what the film looks like. Only the director knew what I had done in the film. And people laughed while watching so I was very happy, they respected it and gave me so much love, so I was very happy.
Do your films recover the money?
Salim Shaheen – I hope that everyone in this world watches my film in America, Germany, France. I would like to sell my films there to recover my money.
What is the future of Afghanistan cinema? Where do you see that in the next 20 years?
Salim Shaheen – As you are aware, there are a lot of killings happening in Afghanistan. As I’m alive, cinema in Afghanistan is alive and if I die, cinema in Afghanistan will die. I can only work hard and make as many films as possible.
The Q&A ended with Salim Shaheen singing “Jash-ne-bara, aaj ki raat, sabko yaad rahein…”
(Answers translated from Hindi by Shreya Shroff)