Indian filmmaker and novelist Murari (Taj, 2005, etc.) offers a romantic feel-good about Afghanistan circa 2000, not without its share of grim fundamentalism but heavy on the optimism.
Educated Afghanis who chafe under the harsh restrictions of the fundamentalist government, plucky 24-year-old Rukhsana and her 16-year-old brother, Jahan, live with their cancer-ridden widowed mother in Kabul. No longer allowed to work as a journalist, Rukhsana still manages to send out anonymous stories of life under Taliban rule to the Hindustan Times in Delhi where she lived with her family in happier times—she attended college and fell in love with Hindu Veer although she gave him up when she returned to Afghanistan, knowing her parents would not approve. One day she and other journalists are called to the Ministry for the Propagation of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice by Zorak Wahidi, the same man who slapped and physically threatened Rukhsana at a newspaper office four years earlier. Wahidi announces that the Taliban is forming a cricket team as a propaganda tool to show the government’s capacity for civility and sportsmanship. The newspapers are to announce that a competition will be held among Afghani teams to decide who gets to compete internationally in Pakistan. Rukhsana, who played cricket on her college team in Delhi, realizes that cricket may be the way to get Jahan out of Afghanistan. She puts together a team of cousins, all of whom want to escape Afghanistan, and disguises herself as a man in order to coach the ragtag band into a competitive force within three short weeks. Fortunately she is wearing her fake beard and goes unrecognized when Wahidi’s even more malevolent brother shows up to announce that Wahidi wants to marry Rukhsana. The stakes for winning the cricket match have increased dramatically. Not to worry, Rukhsana is not only smart, beautiful, loyal and beloved, she and her ever-growing band of conspirators are also darn lucky.
Readers will be of two minds, whether Murari’s Bend It Like Beckham approach to Taliban repression is trivializing or uplifting.