Defining moments in a great body of work
Afghan Muscles 10pm, SBS
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?
Looking for respect and fame: A body builder in Afghan Muscles