Child magazine-vendor whose life was changed by cinema

This article recounts the story of a child who sold magazines on the streets of Kabul after the fall of the Taliban and spent the most important years of her childhood among Taliban mortars in Afghanistan. She now lives in France and has acted in twenty feature films with domestic and foreign directors. It would have been far more difficult for her to achieve such a position in a war-torn country, especially in a society where she has had sad experiences.

When the name Marina Gulbahari is mentioned, the image of the child who played a role in ‘Osama’ comes to mind. The film that dealt with gender inequality during the Taliban years in Afghanistan. Marina was born in 1992 in Kabul. Ms. Gulbahari is married and has a four-year-old daughter named Sofia. She still bears bitter memories of the war. A child who witnessed Taliban atrocities, she still remembers the Taliban stoning women and cutting off their hands.

After the fall of the Taliban, Marina Gulbahari was able to rescue a once hopeless life from under the country’s ruins. Osama, directed by Sediq Barmak, was made in 2003 in Kabul. The film begins with a sentence by Dr. Ali Shariati: “God, make me one of those who gives up on the world for their religion, not one who gives up their religion for the world.” Then we see pictures of women in burqas in Kabul, filmed by a foreign journalist. In the hands of the protesting women are placards reading “We are not political”, “We are hungry” and “We want work.”

The city of Kabul in those years was nothing but a ruin, as shown in the film. The film portrays how the Taliban enter the scene and silence the protestors. In this film, Marina Gulbahari plays the role of Osama. She enters society as a child with a boyish appearance; a society in which danger rears its head every now and then.

Sediq Barmak first encountered her selling magazines in Shahr-e-Naw, one among the many people of Kabul trying to somehow make a living. He looked into her sad eyes and decided to cast her as Osama. Acting in this film is what changed the course of Marina’s life. She says she was lucky to have entered the world of cinema.

“When you are forced to be a working child, during the years when the Taliban committed their worst crimes, it is never even imaginable that one day you will become a movie star in your country,” she said. “This makes me think of children who never had the opportunity to show their talents. Those who learned to be men or women in the world before being children, and whose weak shoulders did not bend under the burden of family responsibilities.”

Marina studied until the twelfth grade and did not get the opportunity to go to university. The threats she faced during her years in Afghanistan forced her to leave the country and move to the West. She has been a refugee in France for five years.

Marina goes silent on the phone and suddenly, the sound of crying is heard. She says she never dreamed of living in a foreign country, and despite all the amenities, she always wanted to remain in her country, but the situation became unbearable.

The psychological damage that the war inflicted on the young Marina will always remain. She says she did not believe the war was over even after the fall of the Taliban. She thought that those who acted in Osama as the Taliban were real, and she spent every moment of the movie shoot in fear.

In one of the scenes in the film, Osama is married to a mullah who is much older than her. “After the filming was over and we got home, I felt like the story was not over and I was the wife of a mullah and I cried in the dark at night,” says Marina.

Marina entered the cinema at a time when she did not know how to play roles in movies or read books. She was busy learning in a shelter; a shelter that taught floristry and miniature painting to boys and girls after the fall of the Taliban. Marina was learning with her brother in that shelter.

“After the fall of the Taliban, I could not believe the Kabul I saw in those days,” she said. “Men and women walked the streets safely, listening to music and watching movies. I saw how Kabul was trying to heal its wounds.”

During her speech, she recalls moments when the Taliban fired rockets and Marina hid behind her father in fear. When Marina talked about the fear and terror that could only be soothed by taking refuge behind her father, I thought of the children whose fathers had been killed by the Taliban and wondered what their sanctuary was.

“When I think back to those years, I’m scared to even hear the Taliban’s name,” says Marina. Following peace talks with the Taliban, she worries about the fate of the 35 million people who were living in parallel with the war for years.

“When I talk to my family and friends in Afghanistan, they say that the situation is so complicated that when they leave home in the morning, they are not sure whether they will return home at night or not,” she said.

Marina hopes that no other child in Afghanistan will have to experience the difficult times she went through and that people will be able to live in a lasting peace. At the end of the conversation, I ask if there is there anything she would like to say, and she replies, “When the Taliban fell, I went to school and became an actor. Now, all I want to say is that I will return to my country on the first day of peace.”