Defin­ing mo­ments in a great body of work

Afghan Mus­cles 10pm, SBS

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Tv -

BODY build­ing is viewed by many with sus­pi­cion. If it’s not the ho­mo­erotic sub­text of all that su­per- tanned mus­cle flexed, honed and sweatily on dis­play, it’s the un­doubted preva­lence of steroids in the sport that some refuse to ac­knowl­edge as a sport at all.

A defin­ing mo­ment in the his­tory of body build­ing, at least in the West, was Arnold Sch­warzeneg­ger’s 1977 film Pump­ing Iron.

Not only did the film in­tro­duce the world to the film star and politi­cian in wait­ing, it brought body build­ing out of its freak show sta­tus and on to the beaches, board­walks and mag­a­zine racks of the world.

Mil­lions took up weights. Gyms opened on ev­ery cor­ner and the in­flu­ence to this day of the com­bi­na­tion of Arnold’s cool, Teu­tonic per­son­al­ity plus his Her­culean de­vel­op­ment can be seen strain­ing T- shirts wher­ever they are worn.

Ac­cord­ing to this pro­gram, ‘‘ Body­build­ing ( in Afghanistan) has be­come a path for the marginalised to pros­per in the world’s sev­enth poor­est coun­try. The fame of a cham­pi­onship brings hon­our to the name of your clan. Hon­our is cap­i­tal and power.’’

So it may be. But of all the mil­lions boost­ing their bi­ceps, del­toids, glutes and quads in gyms, how many will go on to greater things such as fame in the movies or pol­i­tics? There is and al­ways will be only one Arnold. So why would the odds be greater for per­sonal glory in Afghanistan than their one- in- a- bil­lion like­li­hood any­where else?

For Hamid Shirzai, iron is in the blood. His brother and un­cle were na­tional body- build­ing cham­pi­ons and the pride of their clan.

When they were killed in a plane crash, all the boys in the fam­ily took up weights to hon­our their rel­a­tives.

In Afghan Mus­cles we fol­low Hamid as he strives to hon­our his brother and un­cle, and tests his met­tle in the Mr Kabul, Mr Asia and Mr Afghanistan cham­pi­onships.

‘‘ You are all star­ing at my balls,’’ says the wall­flower Hamid early on as his prep team coats him in hor­ri­ble fake tan, then slaps his mus­cles about with oil to make them glis­ten and rip­ple. Af­ter be­com­ing Mr Kabul, Hamid de­clares that 50 per cent of the pop­u­la­tion ( of Afghanistan) knows his name. Hon­our is ter­rific, but in a coun­try this poor it hasn’t trans­lated into any kind of re­mu­ner­a­tion.

Spon­sor­ship deals aren’t ex­actly hang­ing from the walls and Hamid won­ders if his dream is an im­pos­si­ble one.

War takes a back seat through­out but, be­hind the thin nar­ra­tive about mus­cles and per­sonal glory, the qual­ity of life in rav­aged Afghanistan is all too ev­i­dent.

Is it any won­der a fit young man would fol­low his star, no mat­ter how hope­less, no mat­ter how far?

Ian Cuth­bert­son

Look­ing for re­spect and fame: A body builder in Afghan Mus­cles

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