EVERY TIME YOU sit down to watch “American Idol,” a few things related to the show probably pop into your head: The abomination that was “From Justin to Kelly.” Simon Cowell‘s always-amusing cattiness. And Ryan Seacrest‘s bizarre behavior this season, such as getting up in Cowell’s face during an episode and releasing one week’s results on his Twitter account before the episode aired on the West Coast. The fact that, after all these years, Seacrest may be losing it.

But all of our “American Idol”-centric dramas seem trivial after a viewing of “Afghan Star,” the 2009 documentary on Afghanistan’s version of “Idol” (the show is similar in format to the franchise, but unlicensed) which won two awards at last year’s Sundance Film Festival.

Now out on DVD ($26.99 at Amazon), the documentary by Havana Marking is a must-see for anyone who wasn’t entirely satisfied by “The Kite Runner” and wants to see more of the real people, tribal differences and national culture present in the country once ruled by the Taliban.

Or if you just want to see how another country handles “Idol,” that’s fine, too.

Marking frames her film by focusing on four finalists in the competition — two women, Setara Hussainzada from Herat and Lima Sahar from Kandahar, and two men, Hameed Sakhizada from Kabul and Rafi Naabzada from Mazar-i-Sharif — and their passion for music and struggle to live and sing in an Afghanistan still influenced by the Taliban.

Though Setara and Lima dress conservatively when performing, they both receive death threats, and religious conservatives claim the popular TV program is eroding Afghan society.

So no, the film isn’t entirely happy. But while the DVD has only a few special features, including an interview with Marking, “Afghan Star” itself is personal, poignant and more than a little enlightening — that 100 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes is pretty accurate.

Written by Express contributor Roxana Hadadi
Photo courtesy Zeitgeist films