You wait ages for a taxi and then two arrive at once. Though, Laila's Birthday and Kabuli Kid are situated in different world hotspots - Ramallah and Kabul - they both use the roving nature of an everyman cabbie's life to paint a picture of the state of the cities where they work. But where Laila's Birthday focuses on the madness inflicted on a population just trying to get by, Kabuli Kid is more concerned with the denizens of the city themselves and, in particular, their conflicted attitudes after a quarter of a century of warfare and the fall of the Taliban.
Khaled (Hadji Gul) is going about his day's work as normal, telling a female passenger, in burkha, in the back of his cab that the veil is "out of style" and praising construction efforts visible in the city. Dropping her off, he picks up his next fare, but he isn't far down the street before he realises the woman has left her baby boy lying in the back of his cab. "What kind of a mother leaves her baby?" asks his incredulous passenger, a sentiment that will be echoed throughout the film and city as Khaled begins a two-day odyssey with his unusual charge.
"First we danced to Russian music, and then Pakistani, soon it will be rock n roll," says one of Khaled's pals and it is the dance of politics on a micro-level on which the film focuses. Barmak Akram presents a city, if not completely in chaos, then certainly in a state of flux. Police officers and the local orphanage have neither the time nor inclination to help and Khaled finds himself forced to take home the boy.
Ironically, despite his initial liberal appearance, we soon gather that Khaled, who has a tribe of daughters and is desperate for a son, insists his own wife wears a veil when she leaves the house. It is this sort of internal conflict and contradiction that lies at the heart of the film. On the one hand, Khaled's father seems draconian, with his beard recalling the years under the Taliban when shaving was forbidden, yet on the other he is shown to have a more liberal attitude towards Khaled's children than their father demonstrates. Meanwhile, in the city itself, reconstruction efforts abound and yet a curfew is still in force, for which even the password and its response - Kabul and Kalashnikov - carry a weight of history and irony.
Akram shoots in a documentary style and his use of non-professional actors further enhances the film's realistic air. Working as both a straightforward narrative and a metaphor for a country whose future is as easily damaged as the abandoned child, Akram paints a picture of a people which deserves to be watched by all of us who, in the barrage of constant news reports from Afghanistan, forget there is a nation behind the headlines, striving to forge a new path.