Afghan action hero does battle with the opium trade

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The Independent Online

Villagers in eastern Afghanistan are being shown the country's first anti-opium movie, combining heroism, romance and an educational message, in an attempt to eradicate the flourishing drug culture in the region.

Villagers in eastern Afghanistan are being shown the country's first anti-opium movie, combining heroism, romance and an educational message, in an attempt to eradicate the flourishing drug culture in the region.

Black Poison, a film project described by its creator, Shafiq Shaiq, as an "action-adventure with romantics and heroics", has been shown to audiences in village squares across the Nangarhar province.

The film features real heroin laboratories and frequent bloody shoot-outs between police and dealers in the mountains.

Mr Shaiq, an Afghan media mogul who campaigns against the drug trade through a newspaper, cable TV network and radio station mini-empire, says he turned to film to wake up young people who are spellbound by the aura of the gunmen who strut about his native city of Jalalabad, in the heart of Afghanistan's eastern poppy fields.

Heroin abuse is steadily increasing in the ethnic Pashtun area, while thousands of farmers have become indebted to opium dealers. Murders and fights over drug debts or between gangs are commonplace on the streets of Jalalabad.

To attract the maximum audience, the film is a traditional Pashtun revenge melodrama, complete with singing, shootouts, and dancing heroines.

Black Poison's script tells the story of an honest family's bloody struggle against vicious drug barons. To film one scene in which the film's hero confronts a drug dealer in his mansion, the director talked his way into the mansion of a real drug dealer in nearby Peshawar, Pakistan, and filmed the action. He joked: "We told him we were making a romantic movie and he believed us. We won't be going back there again."

Love scenes were also produced in Pakistan. "There would have been riots if we had tried to film those in Jalalabad," said Mr Shaiq. "Afghans just aren't really ready for that kind of thing yet." Actors in the film worked for free and the project was completed on a budget of only £2,000. Forty thousand copies have so far been put on to DVD.

"I wanted to show the reality of what drugs are doing to our people," said Mr Shaiq. "I knew that young people can be bored easily but that they would enjoy a movie with action scenes."

Since the film was released, its director has received telephone death threats from drugs dealers and his car has been attacked by armed men.

Mr Shaiq now rarely moves without a bodyguard. But he is already planning Black Poison II, this time an extravaganza to be shot in Tajikistan where the hero foils drug smugglers.

"I learnt a lot of things about the drugs trade while making this film and one thing I was very surprised by was how easy it is to make heroin," he said. "You just need some old tin drums, and boil up opium with the right chemicals."

The proprietor of Jalalabad's DVD store said the movie has been selling well. "Indian romance movies sell better though," he added.

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