Osama (film)

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Osama poster.jpg
American theatrical release poster
Directed bySiddiq Barmak
Produced byJulia Fraser
Julie Le Brocquy
Written bySiddiq Barmak
StarringMarina Golbahari
Arif Herati
Zubaida Sahar
Zabih ullah Frotan
Music byMohammad Reza Darvishi
CinematographyEbrahim Ghafori
Edited bySiddiq Barmak
Barmak Film
Swipe Films
Distributed byUnited Artists
Release date
  • 20 May 2003 (2003-05-20) (Cannes)
  • 27 June 2003 (2003-06-27) (Afghanistan)
Running time
83 minutes[1]
Box office$3,888,902[2]

Osama (Persian: اسامه‎) is a 2003 drama film made in Afghanistan by Siddiq Barmak. The film follows a preteen girl living in Afghanistan under the Taliban regime who disguises herself as a boy, Osama, to support her family. It was the first film to be shot entirely in Afghanistan since 1996, when the Taliban régime banned the creation of all films. The film is an international co-production between companies in Afghanistan, the Netherlands, Japan, Ireland, and Iran.

Although the title of the film highlights an allegorical relevance to Osama bin Laden, there is no further similarity.


Khwaja Nader in Kabul, Afghanistan, July 2006.

In the film, the Taliban are ruling Afghanistan. Their regime is especially repressive for women, who, amongst other things, are not allowed to work outside the home. This causes difficulty for one family comprising three women: a young girl, her mother, and her grandmother. With the mother's husband and uncle having been killed in battle during the Soviet invasion and subsequent civil wars, there are no men left to support the family. The mother had been working as a hospital nurse in a hospital, but the Taliban cut off funding , leaving it with no medicines and very little equipment. One foreign nurse in the hospital is arrested. The mother does some paid nursing outside the hospital but, after the patient dies, cannot find other work.

The mother and grandmother then feel forced to have the young girl disguise herself as a boy so that she can get a job. Osama's grandmother tells her a story about a boy who changed to a girl when he went under a rainbow, to help persuade her to accept the plan. The girl, feeling powerless, agrees, despite being afraid that the Taliban will kill her if they discover her masquerade. As a symbolic measure, the girl plants a lock of her now cut hair in a flowerpot. The only other people who know of the ruse are the milk vendor, a friend of her deceased father, who employs her and a local boy named Espandi who recognises her despite her changed appearance and who renames her Osama.

The masquerade becomes more difficult when the Taliban conscript all the local boys for their school, which includes military training. They are taught how to fight and conduct ablutions, including one for when they experience a nocturnal emission or come in contact with their wife when they grow older. Osama attempts to avoid joining the ablution session, and the master grows suspicious of her gender. She realises that she will eventually be found out. Several of the boys begin to pick on her, and although Espandi is at first able to protect her, her secret is discovered when she menstruates.

Osama is arrested and put on trial, along with a Western journalist, and the foreign nurse. The journalist and the nurse are condemned and put to death, but, as Osama is destitute and helpless, her life is spared; she is instead given in marriage to a much older man. He already has three wives, all of whom hate him and say he has destroyed their lives. They take pity on Osama, but are powerless to help her. The husband shows her the padlocks he uses on his wives' rooms, reserving the largest for her. The film ends with the new husband conducting an ablution in an outdoor bath, which the boys were earlier taught to conduct after coming in contact with their wives.


  • Marina Golbahari – Osama
  • Arif Herati – Espandi
  • Zubaida Sahar – Mom
  • Gol Rahman Ghorbandi – Lady No. 1
  • Mohamad Haref Harat – Lady No. 2
  • Mohamad Nader Khadjeh – Lady No. 3
  • Khwaja Nader – Jadi
  • Hamida Refah – Rohmi


Siddiq Barmak's inspiration was found in a news story he read while in Peshawar. The paper told the story of a girl who had dressed as a boy to attend school but was eventually discovered by the Taliban. Barmak would go onto add elements of other stories that were shared with him by people who had lived in Afghanistan under Taliban rule cumulating into the story of the film.[3]

The film was shot on location in Kabul, Afghanistan. Work began in June 2002 and was completed in March 2003 with a budget of approximately $46,000 US$. All the actors in the film are amateurs found by the director on the streets of Kabul.[4]

According to Marina, a documentary about actress Marina Golbahari shot concurrently with the film. Osama was originally titled Rainbow and ended on a hopeful note, with Osama passing under a rainbow and gaining her freedom. As time went on, the director grew dissatisfied with the ending and changed it and cut out other scenes in the film that expressed hope.


Osama was very well received by the Western cinematic world. It gathered a rating of 96% based on 100 reviews collected by Rotten Tomatoes, a website which tabulates the reviews from professional film critics into a single rating.[5]

Box office[edit]

The film was a box office success, grossing $3,888,902 worldwide from a small budget of $46,000.[2]

Awards and nominations[edit]

Bratislava International Film Festival

  • Awarded: Special Mention
  • Nominated: Grand Prix for F1

Cannes Film Festival

  • Awarded: AFCAE Award
  • Awarded: Cannes Junior Award
  • Awarded: Golden Camera – Special Mention

Cinemanila International Film Festival

Golden Globes

  • Awarded: Golden Globe Best Foreign Language Film – Afghanistan

Golden Satellite Awards

  • Nominated: Golden Satellite Award Best Motion Picture, Foreign Language – Afghanistan

Golden Trailer Awards

  • Won: Golden Trailer Best Foreign

London Film Festival

  • Won: Sutherland Trophy

Molodist International Film Festival

  • Won: Best Film Award Best Full – Length Fiction Film
  • Won: Best Young Actor Award – Marina Golbahari

Busan International Film Festival

  • Won: New Currents Award – Special Mention
  • Won: PSB Audience Award

Valladolid International Film Festival

  • Won: Golden Spike

Young Artist Awards

  • Nominated: Young Artist Award Best International Feature Film

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "OSAMA (12A)". British Board of Film Classification. 12 December 2003. Retrieved 19 April 2013.
  2. ^ a b c Osama at Box Office Mojo
  3. ^ "Osama and Afghan cinema: an interview with Siddiq Barmak". Opendemocracy,net. Retrieved 23 June 2018.
  4. ^ "Tri City Voice: Interview with Osama Director, Siddiq Barmak by Christopher Cobb - February 17, 2004". Tricityvoice.com. Retrieved 23 June 2018.
  5. ^ "Osama (2003)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 14 July 2010.

External links[edit]