The video project Kabul Cards, by three young women, provides a peek into the city’s civilian life

Shots of Kabul taken from a roof top -- a leafy city with tall buildings under construction, a café where young girls are chilling out, a common fight on the road, a tailor not afraid of bullets, children reciting poems, and women marching to protest harassment on the street. A side of Kabul you are not used to seeing or hearing about.  Three young women from Kabul, Nargis Azaryun, 19, Sahar Fetrat, 16 and Sadaf Fetrat, 20, are on a mission to show the world a ‘real’ side to their city.  “Our biggest aim is to change the perspective about Afghanistan- only wars are shown in movies, there is very little of civilian life,” Nargis says.  

Their video project Kabul Cards was showcased at the recent 14 Mumbai Film Festival as part of the focus on Afghanistan.  

The Kabul Cards video project is a collaboration between the three young filmmakers and two Norwegians, Christoffer Næss and Anders Sømme Hammer. Næss works with Global Video Letters, an organization focused on international participatory media projects. Hammer has been working as a journalist in Afghanistan since June 2007. 

A student of fine arts and music in Kabul, Sadaf also works with an NGO and is part of this project which began in June 2011. Nargis, a law student, has been associated with Hadia, an independent group of women and men who are working for change and she also runs her own organization Road to Equality and Development. The ebullient young women seem to have their hands full with activism, film club screenings, cultural events and studies. Nargis even has a learning centre for street children and a Green Kabul campaign where she involves her own family including her little brothers.

Even though there are women reporters in TV journalism, it is quite unusual for women to be running around with a handheld movie camera in Kabul and the men mostly shy away.  But people are more than willing to talk as the film shows you. There is optimism in the air along with an understanding of the difficulties of living in Kabul.  “Kabul is not a violent city,” says Nargis. “For us it’s a fear that something will happen but its part of our life. Sometimes you hear bullets being fired, there are explosions but if you go back a little later, you find life has gone back to normal. Threats like this don’t stop anyone from doing anything. It’s not scary,” she says. They have filmed a concert when an explosion happened nearby but the concert continued. “We want to show, yes, there is fighting but there is also a concert happening,” she adds.

 Sahar who is in high school, is also part of Hadia and all three are good friends.  Women are at the receiving end, be it harassment on the streets or eking out an existence.  Nargis says the fight for rights starts from when you are born. At 14 she joined the Young Leaders Forum and trained in leadership inspired by her father who is a doctor and her mother who is employed in the government rural rehabilitation department. Women in Kabul have to multitask, do many things –it’s not only one thing you have to fix, there are many, she smiles.  Literacy is an issue and also the question of women venturing out into the streets. “When we go for rock concerts we encourage friends to bring more women along,” she says.  

Eventually the footage they have shot will become a 40-minute film. Sahar says, “There is no point in hiding the facts- women are discriminated against but we have to find creative ways to solve the issue. From 2007, things have changed in many ways, including the way women dress. It’s hard to be a woman -- you have to be brave and you have to hear horrible things when you go out. So in our work we have sensitisation training for men as well.”

 Hammer, a journalist in Kabul got fed up with his stories of war and soldiers, and was inspired by video stories of Brazilians as part of the Global Video Letters project. That eventually led to the collaboration. “We were sure it should be something different,” says Nargis and along with other inspired short films made by young film makers like Syed Jalal Hussaini and others, Afghanistan seems all set to be portrayed differently on celluloid in the years to come.