Afghan Star ontestant Setara

Afghan Star - The Story

Afghan Star TV set

Afghan Star TV audience

contestant Raffi

Afghan Star contestants on stage

Children watching Afghan Star on TV


After 30 years of war and Taliban-rule, pop culture has returned to Afghanistan. Afghan Star - a Pop Idol-style TV series – is searching the country for the next generation of music stars. Over 2000 people are auditioning and even three women have come forward to try their luck. The organizers, Tolo TV, believe with this programme they can ‘move people from guns to music’.

But in a troubled country like Afghanistan, even music is controversial. Considered sacrilegious by the Mujahiddeen and outright banned by the Taliban (1996-2001), music has come to symbolize freedom for the youth. While the conflict still rages many of those taking part are literally risking their lives.

But the old guard warlords and religious elite have more to worry about than just music.  Millions of people watch the show (11 mn watched the final – a third of the country) and vote by SMS from their cell phone for their favourite singers. For many, this is the first time they have encountered democracy: one man or one women equals one vote. All  - the different genders, ethnic groups, age sectors - are equal. This is a highly radical idea in a country still essentially based on a male-dominated tribal elder system. For the first time young people, ethnic minorities and women have an arena in which to shine. And at last, the people are allowed to vote for who they want.

This documentary follows the three month process from the regional auditions to the final in Kabul. Behind the scenes at all times we gained unprecedented access to the lives of contestants, fans and producers alike. 

Characters like Rafi – a 19 year old local boy from Mazar e Sharif and a classic wannabe pop star. His voice is strong and  face is pretty. he has no interest in politics, he just wants his people to wake up – ‘for their souls to come alive again’. For the people of Mazar he is a hero. Posters are springing up across the city and the girls are sneaking looks from behind their burqas.

Lima, a 25 year old from Kandahar faces a very different experience. Coming from one of the most traditional and religious areas in the country, Lima fears for her life everytime she goes home. Her music teacher smuggles instruments into the house and they practice in secret. She says she has no choice but to sing and face the consequence. She is poor and the $1000 prize is her only future.

Hammeed is a young musician and classically trained singer from the Hazara ethnic group. The Hazara have always been the most exploited of the Afghans – many were massacred by the Taliban. In reaching the Top 10 Hameed has become a hero for his people  and huge support network has sprung up: poster campaigns, door to door canvassing, outdoor concerts.

But the main story belongs to Setara, a 21 year old singer from Herat. Wearing modern fashion, Bollywood makeup and sometimes moving on stage  made her a controversial figure: adored by the young girls, hated by the older generations. When she finally dances on stage and lets her headscarf slip, well, all hell breaks lose…

Setara’s story snowballs into terrifying territory in two ways: Setara fears for her life and has to go into hiding, while the series and its producers are threatened by the powers that be.  It is an extraordinary moment  - both in Setara’s life, and for the future of the nation.

Watch the trailer of Afghan Star Documentary...

Hope for the Future

Our main characters reveal the true hopes and dreams of the Afghan youth, their desire for peace, education, and freedom to express themselves. 60% of the Afghan population are under 21, and despite the backdrop of conflict, corruption and repression they are funny, articulate and ultimately inspiring.

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