Sunday, June 9, 2002 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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'Titanic' makes big splash for landlocked Afghans

Los Angeles Times

KABUL, Afghanistan — It towered, a fantastic construction of orange-scented cake and butter-cream icing, created by a team of four men, including a cake engineer: a 132-pound creation in the shape of a ship, dedicated to Afghanistan's favorite film, "Titanic."

Although the Taliban had banned films and shut down cinemas when the movie was released in 1997, most people in the capital watched pirated copies of "Titanic" at home on their illegal VCRs.

In Afghanistan, the movie is still the greatest romantic adventure of all, so the unhappy ending notwithstanding, the Titanic makes the perfect wedding cake.

Baker Ghulam Rasul, 63, nearly stumbled under the weight of the cake as he loaded it into a van on its way to be cut up, served and eaten, four days' work demolished in one hectic hour.

The madness for things "Titanic" in Kabul dwarfs even the fuss made over the film in the West.

Kabul sign-writers are practiced exponents of the "Titanic" theme, with pictures of the ship decorating cake shops, taxis, buses, trucks, market carts and cafes all over the city.

In the windows of the city's many poster and video shops hang posters of the movie's stars, Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio, locked in a loving embrace, gazing deeply into each other's eyes.

DiCaprio-style hairstyles featuring long bangs known as "Titanics" — banned in the Taliban era because they interfered with praying — are popular with Kabul's youth.

The bazaars are full of Titanic shampoo, Titanic perfumes, Titanic vests, belts, shoes, pants and chewing gum.

Souvenir shops sell Titanic mosaics with the ship laid out in lapis lazuli.

Cab driver Abdul Hadi Charkhi, 30, adorned his taxi with a picture of the ship to attract customers.

"I did it out of love for the film," he said. Young women buy cheap postcards of the "Titanic" stars, printed in Pakistan.

"Everyone likes the name. Everyone says Titanic, Titanic, Titanic," said Haji Faiz Mohammed, one of Kabul's largest cinema owners. "Those who have watched it say Titanic, Titanic, Titanic. Those who have not watched it say Titanic, Titanic, Titanic."

The film is popular in video stores, although nearly everyone, it seems, has seen it, often several times. Yet "Titanic" has not been shown on the big screen in Kabul.

Even Afghans have difficulty explaining why, in a landlocked country, the film so captured the popular imagination.

Siddiq Barmak, director of state-owned Afghan Film, puts it best: " 'Titanic' is a great human interest story. People here compare their fate to the story of the Titanic.

"There's a ship which sails out and the passengers have a common grief which embraces all their lives. And the people on the ship want to save themselves from their misfortune.

"I think there is a lot in common with the fate of Afghanistan and the Titanic. We're looking for a way to rescue ourselves," he said.


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