Synopsis: After 30 years of war and Taliban rule, pop Idol has come to Afghanistan. Millions are watching the TV series ‘Afghan Star’ and voting for their favorite singers by mobile phone. For many this is their first encounter with democracy. This timely film follows the dramatic stories of four contestants as they risk all to become the nation's favorite singer. But will they attain the freedom they hope for in this vulnerable and traditional nation? [Synopsis courtesy of film's official website]
Round-up: "Not the slickest or most crowd-pleasing among many recent performance-competition docus, it's nonetheless absorbing for the light it casts on those many Afghanis who want an end to guns and fanaticism, and the return of a social liberalism," writes Dennis Harvey for Variety. Other critics as well have pointed out that while the documentary's conceit is hardly new, "Afghan Star" is an enlightening look at the intersection of American pop-culture and fundamentalist Islam. "While its style and structure conform to the well-worn template established by docs like ‘Spellbound’, its success lies in creating an accessible, fun way into serious issues," notes Sarah Cohen for Time Out. "Talent shows may be frivolous in the West, but to watch singers risking their lives to appear on the show and viewers trading their belongings for sim cards so they can text their votes, is a sobering reminder of how much we take for granted." Other reviewers have pointed out one disturbing reality the film brings to light. "There are...reminders that Afghanistan doesn't need the Taliban to subjugate women—they can manage it well enough on their own," observes Slant Magazine's Joseph Jon Lanthier. "Setara, a youthful female contestant, doffs her head-wrap during a passionate number and dances with her hair freely jostling along to her hip rotations. The response from even the girl's fans is spontaneously brutal, with droves of Afghan Star viewers willing to uphold their Muslim taboos with the death penalty." Similarly, Ella Taylor, writing for the Village Voice, points out: "The really depressing news is that the vehement knee-jerk opposition to the women's participation comes not just from the Taliban and the mullahs, but also from the young men in jeans and T-shirts who say they seek a more enlightened world, yet watch the women's performances all the way through with contempt—and furtive lust—in their eyes." Overall, the consensus seems to be that though this is a somewhat formulaic doc, it's one that raises enough important issues to make it worthwhile.