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Review: 'Afghan Star'

Afghan hopefuls risk their life to sing in an 'American Idol' spinoff that offers a window on a war-weary tribal culture.

Contestant Lima Sahar on stage in AFGHAN STAR, a film by Havana Marking. A Zeitgeist Films release.

Courtesy of Zeitgeist Films

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A contestant on "American Idol" might risk humiliation," but a contestant on the Afghanistan "Idol" spin-off TV series "Afghan Star" could risk his or her life.

The new documentary "Afghan Star," directed by British television veteran Havana Marking, uses the TV show as a window on the entire Afghan culture.

Under Taliban control in 1996, war-torn Afghanistan banned music, dance, movies, and television. It was not until 2005 that the ban was lifted, but warlords and Islamist leaders still exert a heavy toll. When one of the four final contestants on the TV show, a sprightly 21-year-old female singer named Setara, lets her headscarf slip during her number, she is threatened and forced into hiding. Setara is the most "modern" of the contestants – she wears Bollywood-style clothes and makeup, and dances, at least by Afghan standards, with abandon. Marking follows her into her self-imposed exile as she talks about her fears for her life.

The insanity of her situation is matched by the insanity surrounding her. At one point, Marking talks to a crowd of men about Setara's supposed indiscretions. The scene is like countless MTV-style postconcert gabfests until one rather normal-looking fellow calmly states that Setara "should be killed."

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