A few years ago, the Indian Embassy in Kabul entertained a curious request. Afghan counter-narcotics officials, despairing that poppy-eradication efforts weren’t working, came up with a novel idea. They proposed to hire an Indian soap opera star, Smriti Irani, to record anti-poppy public service announcements for television and radio.
Given Afghans’ obsession with Irani’s character, Tulsi, on the show ‘Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi’ (The Mother-in-Law Was Once the Daughter-in-Law), Afghan officials believed the public service spots could have broad appeal. At the time, viewing the show was a national obsession: Even wedding ceremonies were sometimes suspended so that guests could watch the daily telecast. In the end, the proposal never took off, but it did demonstrate the depth of Indian soft power in Afghanistan.
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Aunohita Mojumdar is an Indian freelance journalist based in Kabul.