March 5, 2009 / 4:31 AM / 10 years ago

Afghan TV satires aim to fix problems with a laugh

KABUL (Reuters Life!) - These days, if you need something done in Afghanistan, don’t bother with the officials: comedy and satirical TV shows appear to be calling the shots.

Fed up with endemic corruption, poor governance, militant attacks and the foreign forces aimed at reining them in, actors and entertainers are venting their frustration, and lampooning social problems, on these hugely popular shows that air on several private Afghan television stations.

Nothing, and no one including President Hamid Karzai, is spared in the shows, which often have a fantasy element.

Sometimes, they even target Taliban insurgents.

“For years, I was thinking how I could play a role in helping to resolve the disorders in our society,” said actor Hanif Hangam, who created “Zang Khatar” or “Alarm Bell” for privately owned Tolo television.

“Our program has produced positive results,” he told Reuters. “I have to switch off my phone after going on air because I receive hundreds of calls, appreciating what we do.”

The shows are a must-see for many Afghans, who lack access to authorities to discuss their problems and whose daily lives are still racked by lack of security and infrastructure woes since the removal of the Taliban in 2001.

Politicians also appear to be avid viewers, often fixing some problems after the shows’ exposes.

Last year, “Khandahaye Geryadar,” or “Laugh Until You Cry,” aired by Ariana TV lampooned the Kabul municipality’s inability to fix potholes in some Kabul roads that residents have complained about incessantly.

The show said the government was taking the unprecedented step of filling the holes using a mixture of clay and eggs — a traditional building material — instead of tarmac to ensure Kabul’s roads are unique.

A few days later, the holes were fixed.

“Two people from the parliament came and told us they will persuade the municipality to repair the road after our program and days later it was done,” said Hamayoun Beriya who runs the show and who said Karzai is a fan.

Parliament itself has also been targeted by the shows, which suggested water companies produce soft bottles so that lawmakers hurling them during heated debates in the house do not hurt each other. The bottle-throwing swiftly stopped.

Beriya said the programs were constructive, aimed at helping Afghanistan overcome its shortcomings after 30 years of war and as it faces a growing Taliban-led insurgency.

“And apart from helping the people get it off their chests, we also provide some joy and entertainment,” he added.

But not everybody is impressed, with one program creator receiving threats often from unknown callers. However, the entertainers are determined the show must go on.

“I often get warnings from unknown people for exposing what they do, but I ignore them,” Hangam said.

Editing by Miral Fahmy

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