"Afghan Star" is a TV show modeled on the UK's "Pop Idol." We join the 2008 contest when it's down to nine contestants, and we focus on two women, Setara and Lema, and two men, Hameed and Rafi. We watch the two women in particular: Satara sings with emotion and includes dance in her final performance, an action that puts her life in danger; Lema is traditional, but her very appearance brings death threats. The three finalists are from different tribes, and each makes a plea for Afghan unity. The camera visits families watching the competition, there are comments from people in the street, and we return home with a nervous Setara. In Afghanistan, singing is an expression of freedom. Written by
Democracy and the near freedom to express oneself through song and dance are studiously observed in this fascinating, Afghan-set documentary.
I'd imagine everybody stands somewhere in relation to reality TV shows. For Britain, the experiment that was the first series of Big Brother back in 2000 eventually gave way to a plethora of various reality programmes of varying sorts covering varying ground. For some, they can be torturous; for others, they are most probably the highlight of one's week. For those whom partake, they can lead onto serious amounts of either fame or infamy, but love them; loathe them or feel utterly nonplussed about them, rest assured there are certain editions of such shows that mean and affect so much to so many, thousands of miles away. British produced 2009 documentary Afghan Star is a looking in at precisely this scenario, a documentary covering a stretch of time zeroing in on those both in front and behind the camera; both those working on the show and thousands of fans around the nation of Afghanistan looking on via their televisions. It is a really enjoyable, positively eye opening piece those involved should be proud of.
The events told within unfold in the aftermath of the dissipation of Taliban rule. Under such a dictatorship, not only was television banned but music as a whole as well as the engaging in singing and dancing additionally prohibited. What Afghan Star is, is the combination of each of these things so as to produce the Afghan "X Factor" or the Afghan "American Idol"; the encouraging of a nation to flock to their TV's, if not already turning up at various auditions, to sing and to engage in music and, arguably most notably of all, to vote under free and democratic conditions for their favourite act. The film, from Havana Marking and company, is a capturing of what unravels both on and around this show; a exploration of the trials, tribulations and rather fetching events that come with the indulging in new order activity.
Applications appear open to anyone; those whom journey to the show are of varying internal tribal sorts and are of both male and female genders of varying ages. Their stage appears simple to us, but an array of multi-coloured lights and lasers on an elevated platform in front of a blank white screen is enough to set the scene for the expressing of one's emotions within one's voice and, fleetingly, have a nation's eyes upon them. Every episode, host Daoud Sediqi comes on and whips the crowd into a post-liberation infused frenzy of shouting and chanting at the prospect of seeing those scheduled for the evening's show. One male contestant whom caught my attention spoke of his desire to be a singer within the classical genre, and what was even more interesting was that he was willing to give all of that up if it meant a career in popular music: a self confessed bowing to audience demand and what is much more popular if needs be. Primarily, the thought of a young Afghan man living in whatever conditions he inhabits under the sort of regime that he did, but yearning to be some kind of tenor, is quite fascinating; the documentary then going on to capture the impact that the beliefs of the Western world have implemented through their presence when the man talks of bowing to a commodity audiences demand if needs be.
Havana Marking does well in her cutting to and from both the contestants and those in charge with producing the programme, the editing and airing of which brings about several issues later on. Her documentary film will come to cover that of Hameed Sakhizada; Setara Hussainzada; Rafi Naabzada and Lema Sahar, for they come to resemble the final four left in the competition. The final segment, of which, is dominated by a very particular event executed in the heat of the moment and going on to spawn hatred and disbelief amongst many Afghan's. Earlier on in the piece, Marking makes us aware of the power that the show has in terms of its contestants sexuality and the manner in which onlookers might perceive those appearing. Where younger teenage girls in a family of so-many occupying an as basics-as-you-like dwelling observe a male contestant, and find him glamorous; alluring and attractive, the shoe on the other foot can only cause moral outrage and bemusement as particular female singer Setara Hussainzada dances prior to being ejected and thus, breaks Islamic public order law.
It's here Harking's film takes on another guise altogether; the dangers of chasing fame and the question as to whether Western and Islamic cultures can co-exist, or even meld together, in the first place. Where a bomb scare early on in the documentary whilst everyone was at the TV studio is one item, perhaps aimed at the show or perhaps at something else altogether, the event raises the question as to whether embracing these things that past rulings so fervently rejected can, in fact, be hybridised with newer, fresher ideals more linked to sociological and cultural orientated items. Harking keeps everything cinematic. Grounded, but cinematic. Her shooting of the dusty Afghan desert to a chorus of trumpets recalls Spaghetti Westerns of old as the final result between the last two nears, that sense of a showdown looming prominent. The dancing event puts things in perspective; my own mind darting back to a performance from a few years ago during a cinematically themed night on a musical talent show presenting to us a troupé of young women belting out a Moulin Rouge number in full, Burlesque garb. More recently, during the live final of ITV's 2010 "X Factor" show, I doubt Christina Aguilera would have been able to do much in the way of avoiding the wrath of the locals had her antics been entertaining that of a Kabul based nightspot; her performance most certainly going on to render both the stage and her presence nothing more but a firing line of missiles and hatred. In essence, it is quite the remarkable little documentary.
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