Escape from Taliban (2003)




Director:  Ujjal Chattopadhyaya. 

Starring:   Manisha Koirala (Sushmita Bannerjee/Sayed Kamal),  Nawab Shah (Jaanbaz Khan),  Vineeta Malik (Abu),  Prithvi Zutshi (Dranai Chacha),  Aly Khan (Abdul Malik),  Shoorveer Tyagi (Omar Abdullah),  Pritam Wadhwa (Farid Khan),  Ferozeh (Gulghutti),  Krupa Sindhwad (Tinni),  Vasundhara Zutshi (Sorina),  Jahangir Khan (Kala),  Benika (Sadagi),  Baby Krupa (Tinni),  Asha Sharma (Anuradha),  Yusuf Hussain (Colonel Banerjee). 

an Indian Hindu woman marries a Afghanistan Muslim man who takes her to Afghanistan and big troubles with the Taliban


Spoiler Warning: below is a summary of the entire movie.

December 2, 1994. An Indian woman named Sushmita married an Afghani named Jaanbaz and left her hometown of Kolkata fives years ago to live in a small village in Afghanistan. She first came to Afghanistan in 1988. At that time a civil war raged in the country. President Dr. Hajibullah with the help of the Russians was fighting Islamic militants.

Sushmita now composes a letter telling about her current situation. She writes that in Afghanistan they trample on women’s freedoms. She adds that she is a prisoner of the radical Islamic movement known as the Taliban.

A group of Taliban men are riding around their area in the back of a pick-up truck. They are checking for violations of the all too numerous and extremist rules. It is the fasting month of Ramzan and they see smoke coming from a chimney, indicating that someone is probably violating the fasting rules. They burst into Sushmita’s apartment pointing their AK-47s at her and her young daughter Tinni. Sushmita explains to them that she is not Muslim, but Hindu. But these moral extremists don’t care. They demand that she follow the rules of Islam as applied by the Taliban. Even though she is not a Muslim she must still chant the name of Allah. When she refuses she is slapped and then beaten with fists. She yells for Uncle Dranai to save her, but there is nothing he can do against men armed with AK-47s. The Taliban monsters tell the villagers that if this happens again, they will hang everyone in the village. When the Taliban leaves, the villagers blame Jaanbaz for marrying a non-Muslim, an infidel.

Flashback. It is 1988 and Sushmita is home with her family at dinner. The family is upset that she is thinking of marrying Jaanbaz. Sushmita is a very spirited young woman and she will do what she wants to do. For her rebellious spirit, her father slaps her.

With her boyfriend Sushmita says that they should run away to Afghanistan. They are driven to that troubled country. Once over the border, they almost immediately run into trouble. There are a lot of dead bodies along the road and near the road, the result of Russian air attacks. And now the planes are trying to destroy the new jeep on the road. Sushmita and Jaanbaz have to get out of the jeep and run for their lives.

They finally reach the small village which will be her new home. When they open the door of the jeep for Sushmita, she immediately sees a goat with its throat cut lying on the ground in front of her. She is shocked and horrified at the sight. Then she is shocked and offended when one of the women tries to put some goat’s blood on her forehead. The women are still welcoming of her and don’t say anything about her reactions to their customs.

She meets a lot of villagers that first day, including Aunt Abu and Uncle Dranai and Jalil, Jaanbaz’s best friend. When Sushmita is alone with her husband in their apartment, she is angry with him. She tells him she is mad because he lied to her about the conditions in Afghanistan. The situation is much worse than what Jaanbaz described.

At a communal dinner she meets her brothers-in-law: Kala, Musa and Sawali. One of the dinner attendees denounces Jaanbaz for marrying an infidel. Sushmita is offended and leaves the dinner.

Sushmita is sick and the village calls in a Mullah. He starts performing an exorcism to drive out the bad spirits. Sushmita can’t believe that these people still believe in such "drivel". She demands that she be taken to a real medical doctor. So they drive her to see a doctor. Along the way they are stopped by the Russians. The soldiers let them go when they hear that Sushmita is sick. At the doctor's office  Sushmita demands to know the names of the medicines that the doctor has given her. The doctor refuses, but Sushmita insists and grabs a medicine bottle. The bottle only contains expired vitamins. Sushmita is shocked and she scolds the man for pretending to be a doctor. The "doctor" says that they have no medicine at all. The only thing he can do is give them something that appears to be medicine to help them psychologically. Sushmita does not buy the explanation.

Sushmita is now pregnant and she says that she is happy. She has adjusted to the new situation. She writes a letter to her mother only to find out that she can’t mail it. There is no post office. The only way to get a letter to India is to give it to someone who is going to Pakistan or India where there is mail service. Sushmita is skeptical and decides to go out to see for herself. The women beg her to stay because unaccompanied women are not allowed to go out on their own. But she insists. Uncle Dranai intervenes. He shows Sushmita around the village. The Russian bombs have destroyed almost all the building, including the post office. He adds that most villagers don’t write letters because they are illiterate. Uncle adds that the war has destroyed the children’s future. The Russians came in 1979 and now everything is in ruins.

Sushmita gives her gold ornaments to pay for the dowry so a village woman can marry. This makes her a hero in the eyes of the other women. The villagers attend the marriage. Taliban gunmen show up throwing around their absolute power. When they are gone Sushmita speaks against the Taliban. She says they have only brought violence, atrocities and oppression; they kill those who are not Muslim; no dissent is tolerated; and they kill those who do not obey the laws of Shariat.

Jalil, Jaanbaz’s best friend, runs into the square by the apartments yelling for help against the pursuing Taliban. The Taliban catch him and start to rough him up. The gunmen explain that the man does not pray as instructed by the Taliban. Jalil shouts that the real reason is that he knows that the Taliban is selling drugs to buy arms and they are hiding the arms and explosives in the mosques. A Taliban gunman kills Jalil with shots from his AK-47.

Sushmita has set up a little dispensary. An Indian woman from Sushmita’s hometown talks to her and asks her for help getting out of Afghanistan. Her Afghani husband married another woman and went to Pakistan with her. Now she is at the mercy of her in-laws who virtually torture her physically and mentally. There is nothing Sushmita can do for her, except sympathize with her plight.

Sushmita catches her husband with another woman and she goes ballistic. She screams insults at him. Jaanbaz tries to quiet her, afraid that the family will lose face. He slaps her when she persists and the gutsy woman slaps him back. He forces her into their apartment where he finally tells her that the woman, named Gulgutti, is actually his wife. He has two wives. Sushmita is shocked and hurt. Her husband tells her that now she will live like the other women in the village. Sushmita tries to leave the village, but she is physically prevented from doing so.

Sushmita lays in another "bed "near her husband who is now making love to his other wife. In the morning Sushmita heads to a cliff. She is thinking about jumping off. Jaanbaz intervenes and tells her that, if she wishes, he will not sleep with Gulgutti. But Sushmita answers that why should she punish Gulgutti when the fault is that of the husband.

Back in India, Sushmita’s mother is very sad wondering how her daughter is doing. Sushmita writes a letter to her. She knows that Jaanbaz has betrayed her. She was so upset that she lost her baby. Sushmita does not hate or actively dislike Gulgutti. She is mad at Jaanbaz.

The man who verbally assaulted Sushmita for being an "infidel" now threatens to kill her when she challenges him for hitting Samala, Aunt Abu’s daughter. The young woman dies and Sushmita tells the intolerant man that he killed her.

Aunt Abu now tells Sushmita that she will help her set up a dispensary. Jaanbaz has been away for three days without any word. She learns that he left to make money in India. Sushmita says that now she has lost her last hope of returning to India. She feels very lonely.

Sushmita helps an unmarried woman deliver a daughter. The woman has very low status among the villagers because she has given birth to a "bastard". The little girl will have a miserable life because of her status. So Sushmita asks the mother for permission to adopt the baby girl. Permission is granted and Sushmita names the girl Tinni.

One of Sushmita’s brothers-in-law is beating his wife. Sushmita intervenes and starts physically hitting the man. Another brother-in-law intervenes saying: "How dare you hit my brother!" He grabs a big log and starts hitting Sushmita with it. The villagers intervene before she is permanently injured.

The Taliban grab a village woman. She is being forced to marry a Taliban man, but she says that she does not want to marry a "murderer". The Taliban force her to come with them, even against the protests of Sushmita.

Sushmita, accompanied by the young Roshandar, is shocked when they see three "infidels" assassinated by the Taliban for the "crime" of not praising Allah. Roshandar runs to his village, grabs an AK-47, bolts to the village square and commits suicide. The villagers are all very upset. Sushmita tells them "They will kill all of you."

Sushmita gives a letter to Adraman who is heading to India to work. She then attends a wedding where music is played, a clear violation of Taliban rules. The Taliban descend on the wedding. As a punishment, they start destroying everything. They then grab a young man who is accused of spreading lies about the Taliban. They beat him, kick him and hit him with rifle butts. They then tell everyone that if they have to return, all will be killed. Before leaving they threaten Sushmita because of the clothes she is wearing.

Sushmita leads a class in the dispensary. She scolds the women for being "slaves" to the men. Unfortunately, the Taliban gunmen hear part of her lecture. They come into the dispensary and all the women except Sushmita flee. They beat Sushmita and destroy all her medicines. They then take her outside to beat her to death. A woman comes to her rescue begging for her life. They relent but warn Sushmita about her behavior.

Gulgutti and her two children take a walk with Sushmita and Tinni. They are heading to another village. Of course, without male accompaniment, they are stopped by the Taliban. The women tell them that they are going to see the doctor in another village and they are allowed to continue. Gulgutti says that she knows that Sushmita has bribed a man to get her across to Pakistan. She adds that she is willing to help her in exchange for Sushmita agreeing that Jaanbaz will be only hers. Sushmita is upset by the request, but agrees. They part company.

Back at the village, the men beat Gulgutti for having helped Sushmita escape. She is slapped and beaten. They force her to tell her that she has gone to Pakistan. The men call Jaanbaz to let him know about the escape. Sushmita calls her home to tell them that she is in Pakistan and is in great danger of being recaptured by her brothers-in-law.

Sushmita goes to the Indian embassy for help. She is told that she needs to get an Afghan passport. She explains that her villagers will kill her if she doesn’t get back home. It falls on deaf ears. She heads to the Afghan embassy but again she gets no help. As she and Tinni leave the embassy, she and Tinni are grabbed by the brothers-in-law and forced into a jeep. They then take Tinni from her. Sushmita is so upset at this that she says she will accept Islam as long as she can have her daughter.

At night Sushmita grabs Tinni and starts to run away from the village. Some village men chase her, but they are killed by the Taliban (probably for violating a curfew). The next morning the Taliban come to the village. They start beating a man to tell them about Sushmita who they believe is now in India spreading lies about them. They start taking the man’s daughters. When the mother protests they decide to take the son instead. This action is met with even more fervent protest and the Taliban settle it by killing the son in front of them.

Sushmita is in the village (for reasons unknown to the writer of this review). Two of her brothers-in-law grab her and Tinni. They take Tinni away from her again. This time she has gone too far says her usually supportive Uncle. He says he will never help her again.

The three brothers-in-law go to a party. Sushmita is able to bust a hole in the wall surrounding the residential area and make a get away. But once again she is stopped by the Taliban. She tells them a story and they agree to let her go, but first she must accompany them so a man can accompany her on her journey. While the Taliban talk with the village men, Sushmita drives off in the jeep. But once again, she is caught.

Sushmita is in great despair. She says that the women in Afghanistan have no rights, that they are slaves obeying laws made by fanatics. For this the Taliban bring formal charges against her. She is found guilty and sentenced to 25 lashes and then probably would be killed. Knowing this is her last chance, while being lashed, Sushmita grabs an AK-47 and starts shooting the men. She kills her punisher and wounds some others. She then runs out of the room. She is chased by the men. They try to kill her with their weapons, but she escapes death again and again. Finally, she reaches the road and Uncle picks her up in a jeep.

Uncle stops the jeep for the pursuing Taliban. Sushmita gets out of the vehicle and runs for her life. But she is shot in the back and killed.

Wait a minute. That last part was just a daymare. It was what she envisioned was going to happen. Instead her Uncle drives to the border and helps her to cross out of Afghanistan. He has made a passport for her and has a ticket to India for her. He agrees to send Tinni to her once she is settled in India.

August 7, 1995. Her day of freedom.

Good movie (based on a true story) showing just how disgusting and dangerous the Taliban is as an organization. This is not to blame the religion of Islam. Religious fanatics used the Koran for their own selfish purposes. They created a super-exaggerated Puritanism that proved to be an inhumane and beastly movement. In the name of Allah, these extremists committed many atrocities for which they should have been punished. This type of inhumane religious movement should be stamped out by force if necessary by forces of the United Nations. At least since 9/11 many of the Taliban have been killed by the Allied forces. But the movement is by no means dead and keeps popping back up to spread its poison and cruelty.

The movie is very educational about the Taliban, but I was a bit emotionally exhausted by all the cruelty and torture and Sushmita’s many failed escape attempts. I was so happy when the suffering finally ended.

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D. 


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