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Afghan TV series pokes fun at government with "The Ministry"

To match Feature AFGHANISTAN-TELEVISION/MINISTRY
To match Feature AFGHANISTAN-TELEVISION/MINISTRY

By Michellle Nichols

KABUL (Reuters) - Britain and the United States poke fun at incompetent, arrogant middle managers in the television comedy "The Office," but in Afghanistan the target is a fictional minister of garbage in a new series called "The Ministry."

Instead of a series mocking drab office life in impoverished Afghanistan, where there is widespread unemployment, "The Ministry" mockumentary puts a satirical spin on some serious issues such as corruption, drug trafficking and nepotism.

"We'll see how open (Afghans) are to this style of comedy," said Abazar Khayami, a senior producer involved with the show.

"If you look at the United States and Europe, they are always poking fun at the government but to do that here we really don't know what to expect," he said. "No one thinks there is anything to be concerned about."

Dawlat is the arrogant minister for garbage in Hechland, which translated from Dari means "Nothing Land," and the first eight-episode season following daily life in the ministry premiered on Afghanistan's TOLO TV on Thursday.

In a trailer posted on Youtube, which has already been viewed more than 56,000 times in a week (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2KzQpRt7GYw),

the minister says that the story of his rise to power was too long to explain.

"Let's just say that no one's talent and ability goes unnoticed for too long," says Dawlat, sitting at his large desk in front of a colored map of Hechland that resembles a cracked car windshield and the country's green flag with a yellow star.

"And by God's grace, I have both talent and ability," adds Dawlat, who is played by 65-year-old Abdul Qadr Farokh.

RICKY GERVAIS A FAN?

The minister asks his man-hating secretary, played by Sahar Parniyan, 19, to read him 190 demands made by Cabinet members.

"The first member of parliament needs 10 armored vehicles for his safety. The second member of parliament wants you to authorize his drug-trafficking business," says the secretary.

"The third member of parliament wants to hire his father-in-law, brother, brother-in-law, and cousins," she says.

The show features a vain adviser to the minister -- whose father was minister for higher education, although he says that had nothing to do with him getting the job -- and a highly educated butler who laments his job because he doesn't "have any connections in the ministry" to allow him to be promoted.

Real-life Afghanistan is embroiled in a decade-long war against Taliban-led insurgents, it supplies more than three-quarters of the world's opium and, according to watchdog Transparency International, has public sector corruption worse than any other country except Somalia and equal to Myanmar.

Producers said "The Ministry" is a revamp of an Afghan series called "Hechland" and, while inspired by the documentary-style filming of "The Office," it was not copying the show.

"We wanted to make this a more relevant show that touched upon political issues happening in Afghanistan at the moment," said Trudi-Ann Tierney, senior manager of drama at Kaboora Productions, which made the show.

It even seems to have the imprimatur of British comedian Ricky Gervais, the creator of "The Office," which was originally set in the non-descript British town of Slough.

"They found a fat, annoying middle-aged bloke with a beard," That bit was easy," Gervais said of the new Afghan production.

"The difficult part was finding a town as grim as Slough. Calm down, I'm joking. It's not quite as grim as Slough obviously," he posted on his blog (http://www.rickygervais.com/thissideofthetruth.php)

(Reporting by Michelle Nichols; Editing by Paul Tait)

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