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SCAPE FROM TALIBAN. Director: Ujjal Chatterjee Players: Manisha Koirala, Nawab Shah, Prithvi Zutshi, Feroze. DVD (Eros). English sub-titles.
Planned, scripted and filmed before Sept. 11, Escape From Taliban was bound to attract interest no matter when it was released. Based on Sushmita Banerjee’s real-life experiences, the film arrives as a timely jolt to anyone anywhere who still takes even the most rudimentary freedoms for granted, which is exactly what Banerjee discovered during her six-year stint in Afghanistan beginning in 1989. When all is done, despite a sloppy narrative and shoddy action choreography, this compelling film rises above a mere adventure story and becomes a triumph of the human will.
The story of Hindu and Indian Banerjee (Koirala) married to Afghani Muslim moneylender Janbaaz (first-timer Afghani actor Shah) may sound like a recipe for a disaster waiting to happen. That was not the case—at least not until the Taliban gained stronghold in the power vacuum created by the retreating Soviets and introduced an ultra-orthodox strain of Islam. Escape takes great pains to sort out local Afghanis (good), the Soviets (boorish) and the Taliban (little more than marauding thugs). Adopting a child and shunned by her in-laws who themselves were living in fear, Banerjee’s actual escape, while neither easy nor free of sacrifice, comes rather abruptly.
Made on a modest $600,000 budget, with Ladakh standing in for the hills outside Kabul and featuring an international cast (Iranian actress Feroze plays Janbaaz’s first wife), what Escape From Taliban occasionally suffers from is allowing hysterics to overcome more than one normal conversation. Also, the absence of another strong personality leaves Koirala no one to counter-weight her pain against. Yes, Escape could have been better, but in the revised world order we live in, it is an acutely brave film.