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Let us look back at this 2003 Persian film “Osama” by Siddiq Barmak. The movie was an international co-production between Afghanistan, the Netherlands, Japan, Ireland, and Iran. It was shot entirely in Kabul, Afghanistan from June 2002 to March 2003, and it was the first to do so since 1996 when the Taliban regime banned the production of all films. The movie’s title may strike as something relevant to Osama bin Laden, but it is entirely different and there is no further similarity to bin Laden. 

The film is about an Afghan girl who disguises herself as a boy in order to support her family. It starts when a 12-year old girl and her mother lose their jobs when the Taliban close the hospital where they work. During that time, Taliban have prohibited women to leave their houses without any male “legal companion”.  With their father and uncle dead from being killed in the civil wars, the family has nowhere to turn to and the child is then convinced to disguise herself as a boy named ‘Osama’ and soon works in local chai tea shop. Later, the Taliban take local boys, including Osama, from their homes and train them as soldiers. As the school teaches the boys about fighting and ablutions, Osama finds herself in a dangerous predicament. She continues her disguise… until a sign of womanhood shows on her. It is unpredictable. It is undeniable. And it is heart-breaking as the heroine faces an unexpected ending…

The movie is one of the first films I watch that deal with subject matters uncommon to mainstream movies. It is set during the Taliban regime and the movie opens with women protestors being arrested and abused by soldiers. It is very shocking and sad, and viewers will be drawn right at the beginning. It partly chronicles the lives of Afghan women and seeing the discrimination, cruelty and helplessness these women suffer can evoke certain anger to such society.

The movie is sad from beginning to end. Though the heroine escaped death in the end, her freedom is not a “real freedom” at all. The substitute of death has been a miserable life for her. It is truly sad, for she has remained to be the weak and scared girl…

The movie’s plot may sound like another “Mulan” story. However, “Osama”, for me, does not serve to entertain. It educates people about what was life like in Afghanistan during that troubled time. It opens the eyes of everyone to the fact that in some parts of the world, women remain powerless. It is not an adventure movie or a fairy tale. It is real life. It is so natural and true. And hence, the film has effectively conveyed its message.

Accordingly, all the actors in the movie are amateurs found by the director on the streets of Kabul. Yet, they were all able to deliver very well and had given justice to the characters. Marina Golbahari, the lead actress, was highly-recognized by award-winning bodies, earning her several nominations and awards, including “Best Actress” in the 2004 Cinemanila International Film Festival and “Best Young Actor Award” in the 2003 Molodist International Film Festival. She was truly believable and moving. In the movie, she has been a beautiful girl and a handsome boy as well.

The film itself is also very well-received, gaining a rating of 96% out of 100 reviews in the Rotten Tomatoes. It is a multi-awarded film, including Junior Award in the 2003 Cannes Film Festival, and Best Foreign Language Film for the 2004 Golden Globe Awards.

The film has not really reached local cinemas in the different parts of the world. Despite its unpopularity in the general audience, “Osama” is truly a modern masterpiece.
See what others have to say on "Osama".

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