"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
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.
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