Afghan Star (2009)
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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.
Setara is the first one voted off and besides the constant harassment from religious fanatics, she is evicted from her apartment, and puts her parent's in danger when she attempts to move back in with them.
Other singers compete to become the Afghan Star, and this should be seen by everyone to expose the narrow mindedness of theology. Thank God that here in America, we have the separation of church and state and we are free to worship any deity of our choice. The documentary proves why it is the right decision.
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.