Three Songs for Benazir has been shortlisted for an Oscar due its gripping story that follows Benazir and Shaista over four years in a camp for displaced people
Three Songs for Benazir, an Afghan documentary short film has been released on Netflix. Directed by Elizabeth Mirzaei and Gulistan Mirzaei, the documentary features Shaista and Benazir, a newly-wed couple from a displacement camp in Kabul. The documentary is in Pashto, with English subtitles. It has won several awards including the Best Short Film Jury Prize at the 2021 Full Frame Documentary Film Festival and the Award of Excellence at the Yamagata International Documentary Film Festival. It has also been shortlisted for the Oscars.
The synopsis on Netflix reads, “Newly married and living in a displacement camp, an Afghan man struggles to balance his dream of joining the national army with family responsibilities.”
The documentary follows Shaista, a young boy who has recently wed Benazir. As Shaista and Benazir blush while frolicking, it becomes apparent that this is a story about love, and not the war that surrounds them on every direction. With a run-time of 22 minutes and a few seconds, the documentary opens with Shaista serenading his beloved wife Benazir with a song while she is expecting their first child.
Shaista aspires to be the first from his tribe to join the Afghan National Army, much to the chagrin of his family. In one of the scenes, he points at a blimp in the sky and tells his wife that the Americans are watching them through cameras. “We will either be bombed by the foreigners or killed by the Taliban,” he says, an astute observation.
As we see children playing with knives nonchalantly, the sheer lack of choice becomes apparent, especially for those living in displacement camps. It is a thought provoking documentary that forces the viewers to put their own lives into perspective, while also questioning the meaning of freedom.
He visits an army camp hoping to join the effort. He is told to fill out a form with consent from a guardian, who will be liable in case Shaista does something untoward. When he informs his father and brother about joining the army and needing help filling out the form due to a lack of education, they disapprove of his plan. His brother points out that poor people like them don’t belong in the army. He is told to look after the poppy fields instead. His father says, “If you join the army, the Taliban will chop us into pieces.”
With war and violence all around him, Shaista has to pick between the battlefield or the poppy fields. He chooses the latter, as the couple welcome their firstborn. Four years of Shaista and Benazir’s life are compressed into 22 minutes. It starts off hopeful, despite the chaos, as the couple are happy, and ends with Shaista in rehab for addiction as his wife holds back tears. He asks her why their children are barefoot when they visit and she tells him that they cannot afford shoes.
Three Songs for Benazir is packed with raw emotion and snippets of reality. Imagery of caged birds and the ever present surveillance blimps coupled with the raw, organic narration style paints a tragic picture of the situation in Afghanistan, where death and misfortune await everyday people at every corner. As we see children playing with knives nonchalantly, the sheer lack of choice becomes apparent, especially for those living in displacement camps. It is a thought provoking documentary that forces the viewers to put their own lives into perspective, while also questioning the meaning of freedom.
Available to stream on Netflix, Three Songs for Benazir is a must watch for anyone looking to catch a glimpse of life in Afghanistan.
The author is a staff member.