GENERAL: An emerging Pashtun film actor who won the hearts of Sydney Film Festival-goers for his star turn in Love City Jalalabad had his first swimming lesson yesterday at the new Prince Alfred Park Pool in Surry Hills.
Arshad Khan who arrived in Sydney on 4 June had never been in a swimming pool before, and now is next hoping to learn to swim, speak English, acquire a film agent and land a career in the Australian film industry.
It has been an exciting journey for the diminutive actor ever since renowned Surry Hills-based artist and filmmaker George Gittoes and cabaret performer Hellen Rose discovered him in a casting call at Peshawar on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border in 2011.
Mr Gittoes and Ms Rose invited Mr Khan to Sydney for the world premiere of their documentary, Love City Jalalabad, in which he stars. In a whirlwind 17 days, the 26-year-old has walked the red carpet at the City of Sydney sponsored film festival, shopped for his first pair of board shorts and even met NSW Governor General Her Excellency Marie Bashir.
“Arshad was from the poorest of the poor and was illiterate, so we taught him to read and write, and we’re doing everything we can for him – including swimming lessons – because we really believe in him, we think he could be a huge star worldwide,” Mr Gittoes said.
“We were on the balcony at the MCA during Vivid, a couple of nights after he arrived in Sydney, and he saw all the lights and colours and the Sydney Opera House lit up and the thousands of happy people on the streets, without any danger to them.
“He just thought it was a magical wonderland, because he came from the forest and grew up in Peshawar with all this violence around him and suddenly he’s looking out over our beautiful city. It was like a dream come true and it was great to have this beautiful magic moment to share with him.”
Mr Gittoes has worked in Pakistan for five years, producing Pashtun-language films to help the local industry survive in the face of Taliban opposition.
“In Pashtun movies you have to have a small person, preferably two, and you have to have five or six dance numbers to cut through the drama - that’s the formula,” Mr Gittoes said.
When one of the actors fell through, Mr Gittoes held a casting call: “This little guy walked in the room with a man from the woods and I had never seen anything like him and no one else had because he was so small and so charismatic.
“I recognised that Arshad had tremendous natural talent and I immediately put him together with (Zardad) Bulbul, who is a very famous Shakespearean-type actor who is also a small person.
“Bulbul has very famously refused to help any other small actors because he comes from an aristocratic family and is classically trained, but he saw Arshad’s potential and was prepared to mentor him and turn him into a great performer.
“Arshad is now in about eight or nine of my films, has recently done three big budget, 35mm feature films in Pakistan and he’s on his way. He could be a huge star over there, but he would just love to learn English and be a citizen of both cities – Sydney and Peshawar.”
Love City Jalalabad focusses on the Yellow House Jalalabad, an artists’ collective with a Pashtun-language film company, established by Mr Gittoes and Ms Rose in 2010 in the eastern Afghanistan city.
Mr Gittoes and artist Martin Sharpe set up the original Yellow House on Macleay Street, Potts Point in the 1970s, attracting dozens of artists, including Brett Whiteley, Peter Kingston and Kings Cross ‘witch’ Rosaleen Norton.
Love City Jalalabad was nominated for the Foxtel Australian Documentary Prize, with the winner Buckskin, directed by Dylan McDonald, announced on Sunday at the Sydney Film Festival Closing Night.
For more information, visit theyellowhousejalalabad.com or pozible.com/yhj
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