October 24, 2010 / 8:32 AM / 7 years ago

Afghan gameshow brings relief and a chance of cash

KABUL (Reuters) - His country might be at war, but Afghan gameshow host Rahim Mirzad reckons his daily helping of fun and laughs is just the relief his audience needs -- and the chance to become a millionaire doesn't hurt.

In a rundown warehouse studio on Kabul's dusty outskirts, Mirzad presents the "Treasure" -- "Ganjina" in Afghanistan's Dari language -- gameshow, where prize money of up to one million afghanis ($21,000) is on offer, a fortune in one of the world's poorest countries.

"In Afghanistan after 30 years of war, we had no gameshows, no big television programs like this. This is fun," said Mirzad, a former journalist. "When they see how emotional people are and how they react, it lets them forget everything."

Producers say the show is popular but risqué for Afghanistan, where conservative Muslim clerics have in the past sought to ban foreign soap operas seen as a corrupting influence running against Islamic principles.

Just like a similar Western gameshow, Ganjina contestants choose one of 20 boxes representing an amount of cash from one to one million afghanis. Contestants eliminate boxes one by one and take home the amount in the last box.

The program came back on air on local TOLO TV two weeks ago after it was banned briefly by the government because of complaints it depicted gambling.

Afghanistan's government has tussled before over television content. The cultural ministry two years ago ordered stations to stop broadcasting Indian soap operas it deemed un-Islamic.

For all Ganjina's modest set -- glass floor tiles are cracked and smaller contestants have to stand on red bricks to lift them up behind their podium -- the program has a loyal following.

"You get to take something home with you. When it is a matter of money everyone is interested," said Masood Sanjer, channel manager at TOLO TV.

NO U.S. MILLIONAIRE

In a country where violence has stunted development and forced the government to rely on foreign aid, television and telecommunications are two industries enjoying growth.

Afghanistan's war is at its bloodiest since the conflict began in 2001 when U.S. and Afghan forces ousted the Taliban leaders from power.

A decade after the Taliban were toppled, Afghanistan television airwaves have their staple of soap operas and news programs, a sharp contrast to the austerity imposed by the Taliban, when TV and music were banned by religious police.

Still, Ganjina's celebration of cash irks some of the country's conservative clerics.

"This program keeps thousands of young Afghans away from learning their religious education," said cleric Mowlawi Gull Ahmad at a Kabul mosque.

"This is just a waste of time, this is just greed."

The program recently got its first Afghani millionaire, a government worker, but is far from the U.S. program "Who Wants To Be A Millionaire."

Famous mosques and mountain scenes from Afghanistan decorate the walls of the studio. Dressed in a grey suit and purple shirt, Mirzad conducts the show from a dais, playing to the camera which swings on a crane counterbalanced with 20-kg gym weights.

Only one of the 20 contestants was a woman, smartly dressed in a blue suit and a pink headscarf.

On a recent recording, school children, women in shawls and young men in jeans packed on to the studio's basic wooden bleacher-like seating, Western pop music blaring before they exploded into whistles as Mirzad strolled onto the set.

A young man chosen as the first contestant drew groans from the audience after losing out on top prizes shortly after starting his round -- including the one million afghani pot. Minutes later he was left with his final prize: 10 afghanis, or just 25 cents.

"You really wiped the smile off my face when you lost the one million," Mirzad told him. "Now you've won the lowest prize on this program. Best of luck in the future."

Editing by Sugita Katyal

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