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 a Prime Minister, pushed these freedoms to their limit—and beyond, defying his upper class family in favor of a hitherto shameful path as a musician. Ahmad Zahir's personal brand -- of rock-inflected Afghan pop infused with Persian 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. At the age of 1, Shabnam fled Afghanistan with her mother. She has no memory of her homeland or of her father. She now seeks answers.
The audience will follow Shabnam’s emotional quest to understand where she’s from, who her father was, and what really happened on that day she was born. She will unearth an Afghanistan very different than today - bringing it to life through never before seen archival footage - exploring how the legacy of her father and his music can preserve the memory of that time and provide hope for the future.
ZAHIR will reveal the extraordinary life of Ahmad Zahir and his mysterious death, shed a new light on a forgotten time, and through this process, provide personal healing for Shabnam as she reckons with her father's legacy.