Fawad Mohammadi was approached by a French film director to star in Buzkashi Boys
Fifteen-year-old Fawad Mohammadi hasn't watched many Western movies in his life, and he has only acted in one. But, even so, he could soon become one of the few Afghans to ever experience the Academy Awards ceremony
Fawad plays a leading role in Buzkashi Boys, a film nominated for a prestigious Oscar in the category Best Live Action Short Film.
In real life, Fawad hangs out around Chicken Street, one of the few tourist locales in the Afghan capital, Kabul, where he hawks street maps. Like many other boys, he speaks a few words of English to attract customers. One day he was approached by a French film director who recommended him to the American director Sam French, who had plans to make Buzkashi Boys.
Fawad's life is light-years from the glamour of Hollywood. He lives together with his mother, his sister and six brothers in Kabul. His father died when he was ten. His family depends on the money Fawad earns as a street vendor.
The making of the film goes back to 2008 and actually goes hand-in-hand with a real-life love story. It was love that brought Sam French to Afghanistan in the first place. His girlfriend had been working at the British embassy in Kabul at the time and he moved there to be with her. But even after she left the country, the director stayed. In 2009, he wrote Buzkashi Boys and filmed it three years later.
After just two days of casting, French decided that Fawad would play one of the two leading roles. Fawad was deeply impressed with the director's commitment which became a crucial factor in his believing the film would be a success. But, even so, the Oscar nomination came as a complete surprise. "I knew that it was a special film because the audiences really liked it. But, I never expected it," Fawad said. When French called him with the news he broke down in tears.
Buzkashi Boys is part of the Afghan Film Project, a foundation that aims to train Afghan directors in the art of making short films, so that they can produce their own movies in Afghanistan later.
The film tells the story of the traditional Afghan riding sport of Buzkashi. The point of the game is to grab a dead goat from the ground in a full gallop and be the first to set it down in front of a judge. Twenty or more riders are on the field with each one trying to grab the goat at the same time. Since there are no rules and essentially everything is allowed, the game is very rough and unpredictable. Buzkashi is especially popular in northern Afghanistan.
The short film tells the story of a friendship between two boys: one is a charismatic street kid and the other, the son of a farrier. Both are struggling to realise their dreams. In his role, Fawad ardently hopes to become a Buzkashi rider. In real life, his wishes for the future are totally different: he would like to become a pilot or an actor. From his visit to the US, he is hoping for three things: he wants to talk to Americans his same age, visit schools and he dreams of meeting “Rambo” in the flesh. Hollywood actor Sylvester Stallone is a celebrated star in Afghanistan and became exceedingly famous for his role in Rambo III, which takes place in Afghanistan during the Soviet occupation.
Despite his new-found fame, Fawad still works on the streets of Kabul. "I used to sell street maps and I'm still doing it," he said. "The only difference is that now people recognise me - tourists as well as locals."
Business is better since the film came out, he explains, "Now, more tourists want to buy a map from me, or have a photo taken."
Most of the children who hawk their wares on Chicken Street earn less than a dollar a day. Fawad, on the other hand, is now earning between five and 20 dollars. For his role inBuzkashi Boys, Fawad made 1,000 dollars. He kept a hundred for himself and gave the rest to his mother.
Whether Fawad will actually be at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles for the Academy Awards on February 24 is still not clear. The film team is collecting donations to finance his trip, along with co-star, Jawan Mard Paiz.