What is Afghanistan like today? (Afghan Star reviewed)


Afghan Star (UK, 2009)

Seen: Friday, 8th May 2009 (cinema, Planete Doc Review)
Runtime: 87′
Director: Havana Marking
Production House: Aria Productions, Roast Beef Productions, Redstart Media
Plot: A look at today’s Afghanistan through the Afghan version of “Pop Idol”.


Impressions In Short
Probably the best film I’ve seen in terms of showing what life in today’s Afghanistan is like. It’s both funny and sad and gives a very good perspective on the mindsets of today’s Afghans.

More About the Film
The film follows four of the contestants - Rafi, Hameed, Lema and Setara, as well the host and some of the audience. In this way it talks about a very broad range of issues - ethnic divides, chauvinism, democracy and religious extremism.
“Pop Idol” in Afghanistan has a completely different context and dynamic than it does in the West. Afghanistan is, after all, a country where playing any sort of music was banned for 5 years during the Taliban regime (1996-2001). It is also a country where most women still go out into the streets completely veiled - if they go out at all that is (I’d heard about how weird it is for a Westerner to walk around town and see no women, but it was still so weird for me to see this in the film). Three women decided to take part in the program, which was really brave of them. Setara went a step further and created a major scandal by doing a little bit of dancing (nothing very suggestive in case you’re wondering) and by removing her head scarf completely during one of her performances. She knew it meant death threats and ostracism, but she felt that was the right thing to do.
It was fascinating to see the whole democracy thing play out (deciding anything by popular vote is a novel concept for most Afghans) and I loved getting more information on the ethnic divides in Afghanistan - the three finalists were each from one of the three major ethnic groups in Afghanistan. The presence of a Pashtun lady among them (Lema) was particularly interesting - she claimed that some of the Taliban were actually voting for her (the Taliban are predominantly Pashtun), which is hilarious if it’s true.
One of the most memorable scenes in the film for me is when they showed footage from a 1980 student concert at the Kabul university. It was a girl standing on the stage with a microphone, dressed in red, in Western clothes, heavy make-up and no head scarf in sight. And clearly this was a normal thing back then - no death threats, no ostracism…
It was great to see how some of the older generations still remembered those times and were encouraging their own daughters to break out.

Yes! :) For anyone interested in Afghanistan, I think this is a must-see.

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