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Most of us are familiar with the images of Afghanistan at war, or under the Taliban; but until the rebellion against the Soviet invasion, the country was a relatively modern state, at least in the capital. As the nation attempts to find peace after decades of conflict, 'Afghan Star' follows the screening of a 'Pop Idol' style television program, apparently gripping the nation. The show is hardly racy by Western standards; indeed, with men in dodgy suits and understandably limited production values, the program feels as if it could have been made in the 1970s, before the wars started. But what we see in this film is how strikingly, and tragically, Afghanistan has moved backwards in the intervening years; and how a latent national enthusiasm for having fun is pitched against a deep set religiosity, sometimes within the same individuals. When one of the female contestants takes off her headscarf to sing, one feels a little uneasy; as an outsider, one can only guess at the true nature of the risks she is taking. In my own country, I tend to decry this kind of cheap entertainment, and there's a sense in which the reactionaries have a point when they lament the invasion of foreign culture; but they offer only regression and ignorance as an alternative. Yet when the popular enthusiasm for voting for a favourite star seems in part driven by the sense of futility in voting in elections, one fears that the dark days may not yet be over.
After the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan,and the resulting take over by the Taliban in the early 1980's , the Afghan people suffered the loss of their culture (music,dance & most everything that represents joy was taken away by the religiously overwrought Taliban). Flash forward to several years later,where the country was (somewhat)liberated from the Taliban,certain aspects of Afghan culture made a comeback (television & radio stations began to pop up through out the country,as well as the ban lifted on most music). A new form of entertainment began to appear on Afghan TV. That show was 'Afghan Stars',patterned somewhat after American Idol, where contestants vied for public exposure,singing their songs before an adoring public. Havana Marking directs a well put together documentary dealing with the contestants (four of them,three men & one woman),and their hopes & dreams. Along the way,we see the trials & tribulations of trying to make a career out of music in a society that still hasn't quite shaken off the brutal dictatorship of the Taliban (some women still wear Burkah's,possibly out of fear that the Taliban could make a comeback at any given moment),not to mention government sanctioned censorship (we see one female contestant deal with governmental,as well as societal scorn over her choosing to dance during her performance on Afghan Stars,as well as her head scarf being removed and considered exposing too much of her hair---go figure). This is a documentary that will cause rage among some (especially those who are watchdogs for human rights concerns). As this documentary is shot on HD video,rather than film stock,distribution will be somewhat limited to cinemas that are equipped for that format. Spoken in Pashtu & Dari with English subtitles & English. Not rated by the MPAA, it serves up a rude word or two,and some harrowing descriptions of brutal treatment by the Taliban.
This is not merely about the Afghani version of "American Idol," but the effect it has on an entire country. "Afghan Star," the talent competition on TOLO, a TV station that is monitored and at times pressured by the government, is a raging success with a public that comprises disparate ethnic strains in quite discrete parts of a country that has been repeatedly fractured. Indeed, it is seen by the program's contestants as well as by many of its viewers as a more likely path to political unity than politics itself, which has been undeniably divisive. Think of how TV brought the United States together in times of tragedy. Here is shown the power of TV in a more joyous context. The contestants in this documentary seem to be stand-ins for a political message; with the exception of Setara, a young woman who is willing to challenge the mores of her home district, we don't learn very much about their individual backgrounds. The footage of the country, however, is fascinating, both the recent views as well as those from a few decades ago, when Afghanistan looked more like an American city of the 50s. The film is gripping even as it educates those who may have no familiarity with a Third World tribal culture struggling within to resist or reclaim the push toward modernity.
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.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I really liked Afghan Star for a couple reasons. Firstly, I liked seeing how something like music, and this TV show, can bring such a torn country so close together. There are what seems like countless ethnic groups in Afghanistan, and most of the singers were from a different one each. Even with their differences, they were all supportive of each other, and their fans seemed to follow this behavior as well. Many people, regardless of origin, would always gather together to watch the show on Friday nights. Another thing I really liked is that since it was a documentary, it showed you the country exactly how it is, it didn't have any backstory or anything like that. Consequently, it showed me that Afghanistan has a pretty cold climate. In all the media I have seen involving Afghanistan, like the news, and images of the war, it always seems like a desert, with little to no rainfall or cold. The opening scene of this movie was snowy mountains. Another thing that I found very interesting about this film was the role of religion. In most Middle Eastern countries, music is banned. When music in Afghanistan was unbanned, you could tell that some devoutly religious, people still frowned upon it. Because of this, I was very surprised to see the first place winner, Rafi, walk into a mosque and receive a blessing for good luck in his performance. His religious affiliation seemed to condone his actions. Also, I think I remember the women being treated much more unfairly than the men. I feel like they received far more criticism and hate than the men that also sang.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Afghan Star was a documentary that served the purpose of showing how the Afghan people live and what their culture does to them. The Afghan Star television show is similar to American Idol and other singing competition shows. This movie chooses to follow two women, in particular, Setara and Lema. Setara is the first of the two to get eliminated, and she is allowed a final performance. In this performance, she passionately sings and chooses to dance, which is forbidden in Islamic culture. The dancing in her performance brings her death threats and exclusion from her people. Setara really shows the struggles that many women go through in Afghanistan, and I think that is what this movie is really trying to portray. Gender equality in Afghanistan is one of the lowest in the world, which is definitely shown in this film. After Setara is eliminated, the focus of the documentary shifts to the final three contestants, Hameed, Rafi and Lema. These finalists are all from different tribes, and they all want Afghan unity. Since many Afghans watch this show, a plea for unity may actually be heard.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This was such a well done documentary that gave me a completely new perspective on the country of Afghanistan and its people. I cannot believe that music was banned in Afghanistan for about 20 years and only recently (the early 2000s) was it finally allowed again. Afghan Star is the first and only singing talent competition TV show that Afghanistan has ever had. It is such a big deal because not only does it involve singing, but it also is the first time that many Afghans have been exposed to democracy and been able to take advantage of it. The voting for Afghan Star is all done through SMS messages that the people send from their mobile phones which is also cool because I had never realized or thought about the idea that everyone in Afghanistan would have a cell phone. I thought it was crazy how when one of the competitors, Setara, danced on national TV everyone freaked out, and men were calling her "loose" and saying that she should die. Clearly the society is still very conservative and rigid when it comes to this, and while they may accept and enjoy singing, dancing is something that the Afghan people are definitely not ready for. Overall, I would give this film four out of five stars.
It's late 2007 and season 3 of Afghan Star, a singing contest on
Afghanistan television. It attracts thousands of hopefuls and even
three female singers. It would eventually be watched by as many as
eleven million viewers.
It starts a little slow. It feels scattered as the movie figures out who the most interesting contestants are. The production is reasonable considering the jerry-rigged nature of Afghan Star. The most compelling story is Setara when she starts dancing after getting voted out. It is the most compelling moment in the movie. The shock of everybody around her is the jolt that elevates this movie. This is a great slice of life documentary.
Afghan Star is an interesting, fun, sad documentary taking the audience to the reality in Afghanistan beyond war. I loved the texture behind the "Afghan Star" show theme in the documentary which reveals the multi-culture, values and perspectives of people in Afghanistan; pressure of Taliban; transformation of the country in years; and the universal feelings beyond society in an entertaining way. War and pressure is still in the air. Tanks are part of the screen shots, showing up in the corners, just to remind war despite the pop culture, gripping people's minds and feelings to escape the reality they live in. Great case study on pop culture!
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Now, here's a sentiment I can relate to: peoples' universal love of
singing! It doesn't matter where you're from, or which religion you
follow. There's something about really belting it out into a karaoke
machine that's just irresistible. People makes careers studying the
psychological components and the deeper meaning of Human Nature, but
some of it is pretty simple and common. This documentary follows the
Afghan Star televised singing competition. The show follows the format
of American Idol, but instead of singing cheesy, English pop songs, the
contestants here sing traditional Afghan music. Apparently, the songs
are more popular and contemporary than classical Afghan music, but
they're still in some of the various languages spoken in Afghanistan,
and deemed culturally and morally acceptable by Islamic law. That's
important for a show that's broadcast throughout the whole nation. This
is a particularly touchy subject for the nation, since it's one of the
few things about which citizens can vote democratically. Anyone with a
cell phone can text in and vote for his or her favorite singer. In a
country as ethnically diverse as Afghanistan, citizens wonder whether
the voting will really be unbiased, or whether voters will simply
choose the contestant from their particular ethnic group. And, In
another unsurprising twist, these new voters run right into another one
of the most contentious issues in modern democracy: campaign finance.
Wealthy Afghanis have figured out that they can purchase thousands of
SIM cards, thereby throwing the vote in favor of their particular
darling. (I guess there's more than one universal theme in this film.)
This documentary is really good. Director, Havana Marking, does a great job introducing us to the various contestants, and she really builds the right amount of suspense as the competition progresses. We get to know the singers a little. We rejoice with them when they advance to another round, and we cry with them when they're eliminated. This show was very interesting, because it was one of the first new programs to pop up once the Taliban's decades long ban on singing and music was finally lifted. The show was particularly controversial because the producers allowed women to compete on television alongside men. The film indicates that this contest falls into a gray area of Islamic law. While there is no ban on women singing, the female contestants would have to be very careful not to draw the wrong kind of attention to themselves by appearing vain or sexy. And, some of these women come dangerously close to the line. It's interesting to see how Afghanistan's culture has started to revive itself after the Taliban lost its hold on Kabul. People are wary, and they are branching out very carefully, but they never really lost their old preferences.
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