Saleem Shaheen, an amateur actor, director, producer raised to fame or became infamous from ashes of Afghan cinema.
In an article, Saleem Shaheen was dubbed as the Steven Spielberg of Afghanistan by The National. He is certainly not the Spielberg of Afghanistan, as Steven Spielberg does not act in his movies and has given the world best movies such as Schindler’s List 1993, Saving Private Ryan 1998, and War of the Worlds 2005, Lincoln 2012 and The Post 2017. However, if anything Saleem Shaheen can be called the Tommy Wiseau of Afghanistan. More succinctly, the disaster artist of Afghanistan.
Saleem Shaheen was a commander in the civil war of Afghanistan. He fought in favor of Hizb-e Wahdat-e Islami Afghanistan "the Islamic Unity Party of Afghanistan". He rarely talks about his past much like Tommy Wiseau who does not talk about how he earned the money to make his infamous “The Room”. After the civil war and during the Taliban regime when they banned cinema and movies in Afghanistan Saleem Shaheen ran a video rental store in Sir Sayed Ahmad Khan Road in Rawalpindi, Pakistan. To this day he has a video/DVD rental store in Kabul just a mile from a check post where he was incharge of controlling it in the Afghan civil war in Kabul. He even sometimes sells rather aggressively or makes the visitor rent a movie when visiting his store.
But, unlike Wiseau, Shaheen has graced or disgraced the cinema with his acting chops for more than 11 times. His flamboyant, jubilant acting style and his layman talks have won hearts.
Tom Bissell, the co-author of “The Disaster Artist”, stated in a Vox video essay that he has seen “The Room” more than 100 times and not less than 150 times. He goes on and states that it is like a movie made by an alien who has never seen a movie but has had movies thoroughly explained to him.
According to Vox video called “why people keep watching worst movie ever made”, The Room falls into a category that some call “paracinema” which comprises all forms of cinema outside of the mainstream. The Room is more specifically referred to as a “trash film”, a genre of films that are low budget amateurishly produced and do not fit the settings of mainstream films. And a study finds that enjoying a trash film is high intelligence.
In Afghanistan, nobody has correctly or systemically studied Saleem Shaheen’s genre of films. However, one person has made a fake Facebook account where he/she uses commoner’s language and mocks daily issues with exact same dialogues and quirks of the original Saleem Shaheen. The account holder on conditions of anonymity told me that he/she came up with the idea to make people laugh when the Afghan society is facing too many difficulties and war hardships on daily basis.
Some Afghans very much enjoy the fake Saleem Shaheen’s Facebook updates. This indicates if his movies are not watched as a cult, his pseudo personality has gained fame among social media users in Afghanistan.
It will take time for the intelligent people of the Afghan society to watch Saleem Shaheen’s movies for being the worst movies ever made in Afghanistan or share jokes much like the ones made on Hollywood’s Chuck Norris or Bollywood’s Rajinikanth.
Saleem Shaheen and his band of overzealous actors traveled to Cannes in 2017 as part of the subject of a documentary called “Nothingwood” directed by Frenchwoman Sonia Kronlund. He actually believed that his hard work has paid off and will win an award at Cannes. He posted a video on social media mocking other Afghan actors and directors and his rivals (rivals according to his own believes). He barely managed to acknowledge Afghan-French director and author, Atiq Rahimi and lamented other Afghan filmmakers as fake and followers and students of Mohsen Makhmalbaf, the Iranian director. He can be clearly heard scoffing at the clip maker towards his end of the video. He is indeed a self-claimed actor, director, producer, and scriptwriter of an unknown part of the Afghan cinema where many serious filmmakers are working hard such as Roya Sadat, the director of “A letter to the President” or Sahra Mosawi Mani, the maker of “A Thousand Girls Like Me”.
Much the same happened to Tommy Wiseau when he accompanied James Franco and his brother Dave Franco (The Disaster Artist 2017) at the winning speech of Golden Globes 2018 for lead actor in a motion picture, comedy or musical, at Sunday’s Golden Globes. Wiseau was blocked from the mic by the winner James Franco.
Like Tommy Wiseau, Saleem Shaheen is sincere and a true patriot of the art of the cinema.
By: Waheed Siddiqi