'Afghan Star': documenting history with a musical beat

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Small windows can sometimes open onto the widest vistas.

That's the case with "Afghan Star," an informative documentary revealing how decades of war and years of Taliban repression have fallen to the wayside, however briefly, as Kabul's answer to "American Idol" seduces a violence-weary Afghanistan.

British filmmaker Havana Marking and her crew keep their focus on the song contest, which is as cheesy and glitzy as any of its Western counterparts. But they're also alert to every detail of the country's cities, streets, mosques, homes and people.

The show's political significance is quickly established. For many young Afghans, we learn, "Afghan Star" is their first encounter with democracy as they vote for favorite singers on their cellphones. These are kids who experienced the Taliban's 1996-2004 ban on music, dancing and TV, and they've clearly had enough of it.

The film zeroes in on four contestants: two men and two women, each from a different part of the country and different ethnic background. While all are concerned about their safety, the women are under particular threat — especially Setara, after she dares to dance on TV.

Her mildly exuberant moves trigger vigilante reactions among some Afghan males, even in Herat, her hometown. "She brought shame to the Herati people," one young man says. "She deserves to be killed."

The show's producer, Daoud Sediqi, a dapper can-do personality determined to "move people from the gun to the music," isn't about to let anyone put a lid on "Afghan Star." And where Setara's performance might seem as foolish as it is brave, Daoud's nervy resolve seems a better bet for longterm social change...

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