'Afghans are lovers, not just warriors': filmmaker

Humming Hindi film songs of eternal romance, filmmaker Atiq Rahimi talks of all Afghans as lovers.

"My cinema teaches the world that Afghans are not just a fierce, warrior people," said the Paris-based filmmaker as he whistled and sang "Aaja Tujhko Pukare Mere Geet" (Come, my song beckons you), a popular Bollywood number.

"They like art, culture and they are lovers," smiled Rahimi, speaking through a translator. He speaks French, understands Hindi but barely any English.

Rahimi is attending the sixth annual Asian film festival in New Delhi, where his film "Earth and Ashes" is being screened.

Tracing the path of an old man and his grandson as they travel to a coal mine after their village is bombed to bits, the film talks of loss and longing in the bleary, desolate landscape of war-ravaged Afghanistan.

At the mine is the boy's father, who has to be told that the family is finished, that nothing remains apart from the three of them. During the journey, they meet a kaleidoscope of characters including a philosophical merchant and a mysterious veiled woman.

"Earth and Ashes" is an adaptation of a novel written by Rahimi, which is set during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. It won an award at Cannes this year.

"My cinema is about showing a mirror to my people. The West has a perception that Afghans are just warriors, all about guns and bombs and battle," Rahimi shook his head.

"This propaganda has been so great that even we have started believing this. My films are like mirrors. I show my people what we have become. In a country where more than 90 percent of the people are illiterate, with no access to magazines or newspapers, films are our only hope."

This is Rahimi's second visit to New Delhi. The first was 25 years ago when his father came to do business here. Then we wandered across India, awestruck, gathering sounds and smells in his memory.

"This time, when I landed, I realized the smells, the scents are the same. These smells I get even when I go to the homes of Indian friends in Paris," smiled Rahimi.

He grew up watching Bollywood. "Sholay", "Pakeezah", Feroz Khan, Dharmendra, Rekha, Rakhi, Hema Malini, Mumtaz are names he can just rattle off.

But in cinematic inspiration - there's just Indian director Satyajit Ray. "Only Ray teaches me things about the stories I want to tell."