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Ahmad Zahir is a household name among Afghans, Iranians, Uzbeks and Tajiks of every age and tribe. He was a man who broke taboos, crossed borders, and inspired a generation to join the global community. His life has come to symbolize Afghanistan’s Golden Era of peace and progress. His violent death—an unsolved mystery to this day—is equally full of meaning. Coming as it did on the eve of the Afghan communist coup, his passing is a symbol for the death of the country’s democratic, modernist dreams and the beginning of its dark slide into violence, division and exodus.

ZAHIR explores the story of Afghanistan during its most promising decade and the role of its culture hero at the center of it all, as experienced through the lens of his only daughter as she searches to understand her father that she never knew. ZAHIR vividly transports viewers back to the Afghanistan of the 60s and 70s, a time when violence was not a part of everyday life, when Kabul was known as the “Paris of Central Asia” and young people were experiencing unprecedented freedoms.

Ahmad Zahir, the son of Prime Minister Dr. Abdul Zahir, emerged

from a lineage deeply entrenched in political power and influence.

He was one of the key architects of the new constitution ratified in

1964, which aimed to introduce democratic principles and safeguard

fundamental rights, including freedom of the press and women's

rights. Ahmad Zahir, however, pushed these freedoms even further,

challenging the conventional mindset and daring to explore beyond

the confines of societal norms. Defying the expectations of his

upper-class family, he took on a path that was considered

taboo: that of a musician. Ahmad Zahir's personal brand -

of rock-inflected Afghan pop infused with Farsi and Sufi poetry - 

quickly became a sensation across the entire region. Such was

his fame that he found acceptance in his home country, forever

changing the perception of musicians in mainstream Afghan society.

As Afghanistan was undergoing a societal shift towards freedom

of expression, the political winds were blowing in. America and the

USSR were fighting a cold war, and Afghanistan became the epicenter of the conflict. As more and more Afghans sided with the communists, Ahmad Zahir saw his country going down a dark path, and he spoke out through his music. His voice captured the spirit of  the resistance.

It was a dangerous time to be controversial. The Communists blacklisted his music. He received death threats daily. On his 33rd birthday, June 14, 1979 - the same day his daughter, Shabnam was

born - Ahmad Zahir was found dead in his car under mysterious circumstances. While the government media reports that he was killed in a car accident, the bullet wound to his head strongly suggests that it was no accident. Millions turn out for the beloved singer’s funeral—the largest in Afghan history.

Perhaps, with the voice of the people now silenced, they also mourned the end of an era. Six months later, the Russian occupation of Afghanistan began. War quickly followed. 

Our documentary, "ZAHIR," explores the life and impact of Ahmad Zahir amid the turbulent backdrop of Afghan politics and culture. Through rare archival footage and interviews, we paint a vivid picture of a bygone era, shedding light on Ahmad Zahir's significance as a cultural figure and the circumstances surrounding his untimely demise. In adopting an observational style, we step back, allowing the events and testimonies to speak for themselves. The film offers a compelling narrative that transcends personal history to delve into broader themes of artistic freedom, political oppression, and the enduring power of music in times of strife. As the film unravels the mysteries of Ahmad Zahir's life, viewers are taken on a journey through a pivotal moment in Afghan history, inviting reflection and understanding on a global scale.

Dr. Abdul Zahir (left), seated alongside President Kennedy (right) in the White House served as Prime Minister of Afghanistan from November 1971 to March 1972.
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