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The real Idols? These brave contestants on 'Afghan Star'

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On American Idol, they try to create “triumph over adversity” backstories with anyone who’s ever had a paper cut. But if you want to see people putting their lives on the line for their love of singing, you have to tune into Afghan Star tonight on HBO, at 8:30 p.m. (it repeats through March 30).

This documentary explores the lives of four contestants on Afghan Star, an Idol-type TV talent competition in Afghanistan. The show was started after the end of Taliban rule, which had banned TV and even made listening to music illegal. So a TV show about singing was quite a new thing. One woman, the inspiring Setara, gets death threats after she dances on stage. (We’re not even talking Showgirls dancing, we’re talking a little shimmy fully clothed during her singing performance.) And voting for the show’s winner is some people’s first democratic experience(!).

Havana Marking’s Sundance-prize-winning film is enlightening and entertaining. Check it out and you’ll never look at someone like whip girl on American Idol the same way.

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