"Theatre resembles living a life, where actors live and present their struggles"

Ahmad Samim Farahmand
Ahmad Samim Farahmand is a lecturer at Kabul University of Afghanistan. Mr. Farahmand is also the coordinator for Afghan Student's Theatre festival that takes place annually in Afghanistan. In a very young age Samim started writing and till now he has written more than twenty Short stories, essays and poems. Mr Farahmand's essays includes research about Buddhism in Afghanistan and the history of Afghanistan theatre from beginning till now. His last works was an essay related to the importance of theatre in Afghanistan and why should we keep this art alive. Currently Samim resides in Kabul and is working on his upcoming essay and practices on how an actor can use the stage properly. For the first time, students from the University of Kabul, Afghanistan put up their interpretation and rendition of one of Tagore's most famous short stories – Kabuliwala directed by Ahmad Samim Farahmand  at the ICCR, kolkata organised by Happenings, Kolkata.

What does theatre mean to you?  

It is hard to express theatre easily, however, I believe theatre is life, theatre means giving life to an untold story, theatre means expressing a story in its most simple and effective form to your viewer/listener. In other words, theatre resembles living a life, where actors live and present their struggles, according to the view of their director and needs of the society. Today theatre has presented itself as a guide to societies and has presented the problems of the society in a logical way to its people, and has shown ways on how to overcome people’s problems. This is what theatre actually is. 


What is your opinion on the current state of theater in the Afghanistan?

Theatre has a history that goes back thousands of years in Afghanistan, this art form has been active since the great Alexandra’s time. Theatre has been mostly used to please the powerful and politicians, sometimes theatre presents what people are interested to see which has not been very effective.

Theatre has spent years in destruction through various regimes in Afghanistan, specifically Taliban’s regime. Later, after 2001 when the interim government of Hamid Karzai was announced, theatrical pieces started to rise, but it didn’t have its old fame of 40 years ago. At times theatrical arts were tortured by the religious communities, but it still survived through the academic theatrical personalities of Afghanistan and was brought to the attention of the world. Here we have to thank the Theatre Department of Faculty of Fine Arts, which worked hard to keep this art form alive and active by creative theatre festivals and groups. Today we have groups comprising boys and girls in different provinces of Afghanistan. Some of those groups participate in national and international festivals as well. 


What kind of issues and concerns are being reflected in the theatres of Afghanistan?

Today theatre in Afghanistan is mostly educational and informational since the theatre has spent years in the dark and required time to introduce itself and its activities back to the people, and luckily it is doing so. Most of the theatrical plays performed in Afghanistan and created for a specific cause, important causes to be exact. Plays are created to reflect the issues of our current society, for example:
Plays related to violence against women, drug abuse and its dangers, terrorism, and other such plays that could tell stories of our current society, people accept them too. 

On the other hand, students of the university who are studying this art form academically, choose foreign plays that have subjects related to our society and work on them. These plays are mostly selected from festivals outside the country, students have achieved honors for doing so. 


Which was the most challenging part of directing Kabuliwala?

It is obvious that directing is a difficult task, in Afghanistan it has more difficulties since we have less space to rehearse, actors work outside the theatre (in Afghanistan actors of cinema and theatre have to work other jobs since there is no payments in theatre for them). The enemy that has never enjoyed the success of arts and culture in Afghanistan, and other problems that are part of our daily life, such as the religious community that always tries to stop artistic activities. However, with all the difficulties we were still able to complete Kabuliwala. 

I still remembered that we kept all our schedules and rehearsal secret from everyone, except the actors, and we didn’t post any pictures of videos on social media, since we were afraid of people who didn’t like what we did. Two years ago an explosion took place during a theatrical performance that closed the doors of an auditorium on the viewers of theatre. Our friends didn’t know about the cast and crew members of the play, till we performed in India. Then they recognized the cast members. 


What did you look for in an actor when you made the casting for the play?

After selection of a certain play, the task of a director is to find actors for the characters in the play. Every year the Theatre Department of Kabul University, holds a Students’ Theatre Festival,  which is a great platform for students to present their works. I have spent two years working as the coordinator for the festival where I got the chance to observe student talent. These festivals helped me choose the most fitting actors for the characters of Kabuliwala. 

I faced some difficulties to find actors who could fit Indian characters, but the festival helped me observe actors and find the most suitable ones. Even actors didn’t know that they are chosen for certain roles for a reason, later I told them why I chose them for the roles they were given. I gave them my reasons, most of which were: “I chose you for this character because I saw you in this performance and thought you fit the role.”  I am pleased that the actors fulfilled their tasks appropriately. 


Rabindranath Tagore's famous short story "Kabuliwala" has contributed more to brand Afghanistan, which it could not do with billions of dollars, Afghan President Mohammad Ashraf Ghani has said while fondly remembering the late Nobel laureate. What are your views?

Yes, as President Ghani expressed, that billions of dollars couldn’t bring the change that Kabuliwala brought. I also believe that Kabuliwala is not a short story, it is a connection between two cultures, a friendly link and a kind relation between the people of two nations.

If we go into depth of Tagor’s story we would understand that Rabindranath Tagore has written a masterpiece, which wove the hearts of our nations. Even today we can find such stories in India, specifically in Kolkata. 


Two hundred years ago, Afghans traveled to India to do business and it gave the idea of Kabuliwala to Tagore, today the bond is so strong between these two nations that others feel jealous of it. 
If we had spent thousands of dollars, we wouldn’t have been able to buy such a bond that is created in Kabuliwala. The bond of love and kindness between a refugee seeking business and a child, the love of a child for a man that he hasn’t even knows. The kindness of a father to a man who was in need, how the father spent the last of his fortune to bring happiness to a man not known to him. This shows that love cannot be purchased with wealth; it is a feeling of acceptance that has remained between these two nations. 


In fact Kabuliwala represents a common culture, history, and social life of the people of these two nations (India and Afghanistan). I believe that Tagore is the writer of the play that tells the story of what he has witnessed. 

Kabuliwala is an example of acceptance between these two nations; we performed this play to recreate the love that is slowly fading between these two nations. Through Kabuliwala we created love between these two nations, we reminded our people in Afghanistan, Kolkata, and India of the love we have and we will carry in our hearts to each other. It was one of our main goals by creating Kabuliwala. 

What is your favorite aspect about Tagore’s Kabuliwala?

At first the short story and later on the Dramatized version of Kabuliwala, by my best friend Haroon Noori is what I love the most about Kabuliwala. The love and admiration I had for this play was why I accepted to direct this play.  I can’t compare different aspects of the play and say which is my favorite; I admired and love every aspect of the writing and the characters in this play.  I will never forget that one of my dreams comes true, to go to Tagore’s birth place and perform his own play there. I can’t believe that I went there (ShantinKetin) and performed Kabuliwala. I am thankful to God for making my dream come true. 

I hope that I could continue to work with the people of Tagore’s land and continue to have contacts with them, learn from their great experiences, and feel proud. 


A memorable moment during this trip that you would like to share?

From my trip with Kabuliwala’s team to the land of knowledge, culture, and arts, and a land that is loved by every easterner for its history, I have enjoyed every moment of it and have brought great memories back with me.  At first I would like to thank all the people of India, specifically people in Kolkata who showed me love and hospitality, from the organizers of the festival that helped us greatly (Viji Iyengar, Prokash Bhattacharya, Priyanka Ghose, Kaustav Ghosh)They helped us perform our theatrical piece in their country and supported us immensely. 

Every member of the team has memories of their first trip, but here I want to share one of my memories that I will never forget: I was walking inside Visva-Bharati University when one of our Bengali friends came towards me with a newspaper in Bengali and started speaking in his language. I couldn’t understand a word he was saying, but when I saw the newspaper, I understood what he wanted to tell me. The newspaper had one of my interviews related to Kabuliwala printed on it. I started to search my friend “Abhijeet” who is from Bangladesh, to read me the paper since I can’t read Bengali. Abhijeet translated the printed news to me. 

On my way to Delhi a couple was traveling with me, they spoke Bengali, we talked a bit and I told him about the purpose of my trip to India and showed them the newspaper. They asked me about “Ahmad Samim Farahmand,” I said why do you want to know about him? They said that he has done something really important and can we see him? I felt very proud and started thinking about how to tell them that I am Samim. After a short pause,  I told them who I was. They didn’t believe me, later I had to show them my passport, once they recognized that I was the man in the newspaper, they hugged me and appreciated my work a lot. They passed me their address to join them sometime. This was a great memory that I carried back home with me from India. 

It was my last day in Delhi and I went to see the Bengali couple that I met on my way to Delhi from Kolkata, I found their house and went in. They were very kind, we spent time talking, they said that they didn’t believe I would come to their house after our meeting on the train. They expressed how kind Afghans are and how kind I was. Her husband was not home, but I met the whole family, we spent time together, and I told them that I was leaving Delhi and going back to Kabul. My eyes were wet with tears as I was leaving their house. I promised to visit them whenever I came to India. 

There I understood that love and kindness cannot be given, it is a true nature of human beings towards each other. This was one of the bitter memories I carried with me back to Afghanistan. 


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