Road to Peshawar

By Hammad Rizvi | Drama
A young Afghan girl embarks on a dangerous journey to Pakistan.

During the Soviet-Afghan War, a young girl named Samira is caught in some crossfire, and the shrapnel injures her eyes, rendering her blind. In need of medical treatment, she must travel to Pakistan from her remote village. But to do so, her father must lead her through the treacherous Peshawar Pass.

Tethering Samira to him with a rope, the two set off on the dangerous journey, leaving Samira’s mother behind. But when they pass through a literal minefield, disaster strikes — and Samira’s fate is inextricably linked to the Soviet sniper stationed at a key point in the pass.

Written and directed by Hammad Rizvi, this stunningly photographed, gripping drama short captures the brutal impact of war on its “collateral damage,” and how violence works like a contagion.

The storytelling possesses great sweep and scope for a short, starting with the stark yet majestic grandeur of its mountainous setting. Stunning cinematography emphasizes the cragged, rough terrain of this part of the world, which is both striking and unforgiving. The Afghan-Soviet conflict, which raged throughout the 1980s, is part of the film’s geopolitical context, as well. Its complexities of insurgent groups fighting against the Soviet Army power the atmosphere of danger and uncertainty in the film.

But the writing situates a more intimate family story within this almost epic backdrop, as Samira’s father worries for his daughter and seeks treatment for her, deciding to set off on a dangerous journey. The pacing picks up momentum when the pair set off, and as they get deeper into the pass, the sense of peril also deepens. Images of the blindfolded little girl creeping after her father only add to a growing vulnerability, which escalates into helplessness when calamity befalls them and the girl is left on her own to fend for herself.

The storytelling takes an unusual turn here when Samira’s path intersects with a Soviet sniper named Nikolai. Showing his humanity despite orders to abandon her, he takes it upon herself to bring her to Pakistan. All the performances emphasize the characters’ humanity — actor Mustafa Faiz as Samira’s father Abdullah is particularly moving — and actor Philip Kreyche makes sure Nikolai is both war-weary but still sympathetic to the young girl’s dilemma.

But just as the ending seems to be heading into heartwarming territory, “Road to Peshawar” stays true to the story’s overarching context of political violence and strife. After all, the action of war sets the narrative in motion. Its obstacles are the result of war. And, in the end, the conclusion is a logical consequence of it as well.

“Road to Peshawar” powerfully encapsulates how war creates an engine of hate, and how violence begets violence. War cannot be transcended by individual acts of humanity; it is too massive of an influence over the lives of the people it affects. And — considering the long-term aftereffects of the Soviet-Afghan conflict — that influence often extends past the conflict’s official end, for better or worse.

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