Afghan Hazara tribal leaders object to Bollywood film

A Bollywood pic set in Afghanistan around the fall of the Taliban has been banned in the country following an outcry from Afghan Hazara tribal leaders. “Kabul Express,” helmed by Kabir Khan, was blasted as “immoral” by leading members of the Hazara community, which makes up around 15% of the country’s population, including Vice President Mohammad Karim Khalili and the head of the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, Seema Samar.

Pic accuses the Hazaras of being “the most dangerous tribe of Afghanistan.” The Afghan Information and Culture Ministry has forbidden selling or exhibiting “Kabul Express.” However, pirated copies are already available. Execs at Afghan TV also announced a 72-hour ban on Indian pics and songs, traditionally hugely popular in the country, in protest.

Pic, which was lensed in Afghanistan, follows two Indian journos who come to Kabul to cover the collapse of the Taliban regime in late 2001, and are subsequently abducted by a pro-Taliban Pakistani military officer.

“We have acknowledged with great regret the deep anguish that has been caused to the Hazara community apparently by some elements in our film. We are extremely distressed by the fact that ‘Kabul Express’ is being viewed as an anti-Afghan film and would like to apologize for having caused hurt, though inadvertently, to the Hazara community of Afghanistan,” read a statement issued by the pic’s shingle Yash Raj Films.

The statement goes on to add, “The decision to shoot the film in Afghanistan against all odds was taken to promote greater cooperation and understanding between the Indian and Afghan people. … We do hope this misunderstanding is cleared as soon as possible and we look forward to greater ties and closer cooperation with the Afghan people.”

Efforts to rebuild Afghanistan’s cultural scene after the fall of the Taliban have been sketchy at best. Initial optimism following the success of Afghan helmer Siddiq Barmak’s “Osama,” the first feature to lens post-Taliban in the country, which won the 2004 Golden Globe for foreign film, has since been slowed by continuing instability and a lack of investment in the arts.

Barmak’s own follow-up “Opium War,” about two wounded American soldiers stumbling through the Afghan desert who are discovered by a family of Afghan opium growers living in an old Russian troop carrier, was set to start shooting in June, but the Afghan government shut down production indefinitely over security fears. The Korean sales agent behind the pic, Cineclick Asia, still hopes to start shooting sometime in 2007, possibly in Tajikistan.

Follow @Variety on Twitter for breaking news, reviews and more