The Rage of Reality TV in Afghanistan


Syed Zafar Mehdi

While presenting opportunities to young prodigies to showcase their talent, the reality television shows have also become a rage among the entertainment starved audience in this country

“A reality show can heal where the civic processes have failed,” writes Katherine Sender in The Politics of Reality Television: Global Perspectives. It is especially true for a place like Afghanistan, where reality is far more vicious than the Russian roulette. With the television industry around the world coming up with innovative concepts for reality shows, how can Afghanistan be far behind? It seems the trend of television reality shows is here to stay.

In the last one decade, the hard-bitten people of this country have embraced life. And, some of them like Kianosh Rahimi, 25, have chosen reality television to showcase their talent and catch the people’s imagination.

The trend of reality shows picked up in Afghanistan with Afghan Star, which was launched on Tolo channel in September 2005. In the very first season, thousands of enthusiastic youngsters made beeline to take part in the auditions across the country

Rahimi, the young and promising singer from a small town in Bamyan province, was one of the participants in Afghan Star, a popular reality television show, last year. These reality shows have become all rage among the entertainment starved audience in this country. There are a total of 75 television stations and 175 radio stations in Afghanistan today.

Thousands of aspirants are seen at the auditions every new season. There were tears and sobs when they fail and moments of ecstasy and delight when they win. “It is because they give opportunities to ambitious people like me from the remote parts of country to showcase our talent,” says Rahimi.

The trend of reality shows picked up in Afghanistan with Afghan Star, which was launched on Tolo channel in September 2005. In the very first season, thousands of enthusiastic youngsters made beeline to take part in the auditions across the country. “It was a welcome departure from the dark and somber past,” says Mohammad Imran, 31-year-old amateur musician from Kabul who was lucky to be shortlisted in the inaugral season. “Something that was unimaginable just five years back was all before us, it was surreal.”

Shakeeb Hamdard, a young boy from Dara e Turkman, a beautiful valley in Parwan province, was the winner in first season. Hamdard released his debut album Mashalla in 2007 after his song Gul Dana Dana had become a chartbuster across Afghanistan.

In the holy month of Ramadan last year, a contest on the lines of ‘Qoran Idol’ of Iran was developed by Tolo TV, which created quite a stir. Islamic scholars judged contestants on their ability to recite Quranic verses 

The success of Afghan Star and the tremendous potential of reality shows in Afghanistan forced many to sit up and take notice. “It was a watershed moment in the history of Afghanistan, and Afghan Star managed to set a precedent,” says Imroz Nabi, former producer at MOBY Media Group. “It inspired millions in Afghanistan to believe in the beauty of their dreams.”

In 2008, another reality show took country by storm. Loosely based on Dragons Den series, ‘Fikr wa Talash’, which translates into Dream or Achieve, was sponsored by USAID, Roshan telecommunication and Bank e Milli. Aimed to promote entrepreneurial spirit among ordinary Afghans, the show gave contestants a lifetime opportunity to pitch their creative business ideas before a panel of business tycoons and walk away with the bumper prize of 20,000 USD. Faizulhaq Moshkani was declared winner for pitching the idea about plastic recycling business. “It was amazing the way many Afghans came forward with such innovative business ideas,” says Roshan Mohammadi, student at Kabul University. “It was unprecedented because normally we fail to appreciate talent and creativity in ordinary Afghans.”


In 2010, Emrooz TV, taking a cue from Tolo, came up with a reality show for young Afghan models. “It was unprecedented and hugely successful show,” says Maseeh Rehman Popalzai, who emerged winner among 124 contestants. In 2012, thousands of young Afghans, most of them sports buffs, took part in a reality television show called ‘Maidan e Sabz’, which means ‘green field’, to get a chance of representing one of the eight football teams in the high-profile football league. The idea, according to Abdul Sabor Walizada, the trainer, was to bring football into Afghan homes, and use sports to espouse the cause of national unity. The show struck a chord with majority of young Afghans.

“I remember going for the trails on the first day; there was almost a stampede,” says Aitzaaz Anwar. “Though I did not make it to final list but the experience was amazing.” The show’s popularity among young Afghans was mainly attributed to the passion they share for football. “Afghans are passionate about football; you will find pictures of Lionel Messi and Christiano Ronaldo in many homes and kitchens,” says Anwar. The impressive show of the national football team has made the sport popular here.

In the holy month of Ramadan last year, a contest on the lines of ‘Qoran Idol’ of Iran was developed by Tolo TV, which created quite a stir. Islamic scholars judged contestants on their ability to recite Quranic verses. “Such programmes will always have audience in Afghanistan and we need to continue with such shows so that people understand the art of Quranic recitation well,” says Naseerullah Khalid, Professor at Kabul University.
In 2013, Tolo TV launched another innovative reality show ‘Voice of Afghanistan’ based on the Dutch reality show ‘The Voice of Holland’, created by John de Mol. Moby Group, which owns Tolo TV, acquired the rights to broadcast the show in March last year. “It was wonderful to see young contestants singing for peace and showing what they are capable of,” says Fereshteh Forough, Co-Founder of Afghan Citadel Software Company. The show topped popularity charts after the successful first season, but it also grabbed the headlines for some controversial reasons.


Some hardliners in the country found the show promoting waywardness. Abdul Sattar Khawasi, a parliamentarian, led the campaign against the show. One of the judges, Aryana Sayeed, who is also a popular Afghan singer, was singled out for severe criticism because of her western clothes. “The smear campaign against the show was unnecessary and unfounded, and all these politicians who thought such gimmickry will get them votes are sadly mistaken,” says a young musician, wishing anonymity.

There were reports about music tycoon Simon Cowell planning to launch the Afghan version of Got Talent show in Afghanistan. Cowell, who is a prominent name in west for launching many successful reality shows including The X Factor, had expressed his desire to help young Afghans realize their dreams and provide entertainment to people here. “It would be wonderful if his plans actually materialize; it will put the reality television of Afghanistan on world map,” says Popalzai.

The observers here attribute many reasons to popularity of these talent reality shows. “Ten years ago, television was a strange beast here, so the Afghan audience was certainly starved of televised entertainment,” says Forough.” While sponsors make hefty money, contestants enjoy their spectacular moments in spotlight, and audience laps up emotion.

 

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