Ganjina: Afghanistan's Deal or No Deal

Photographs and Text by Jonathan Saruk

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Applause erupts to a crescendo of music as Rahim Mirzad, the host of the popular game show “Ganjina,” walks on stage, beaming towards the camera. Eagerly lined up behind him are contestants dressed to the nines, hoping for a chance to become the next millionaire: Afghanistan’s next millionaire.

A few kilometers outside the center of Kabul, in a non-descript warehouse next to the teachers college, “Ganjina,” or “Treasure,” gives ordinary citizens of the war-torn country a shot at winning one million Afghanis (approximately US $22,200). “Ganjina is for everyone: men, women, boys, girls, grandparents,” says Mr. Mirzad. “Everyone thinks it is fun.”

Just as in the popular US game show "Deal or No Deal,” contestants play by eliminating boxes containing hidden amounts. The goal of the show is to end with the box that contains the highest number. Contestants also have several opportunities to opt for a "deal" from "the bank" if they are unsure of finishing with a favorable number. “When it is a matter of money, it is always popular everywhere,” says Massood Sanjer, Channel Manager at Tolo.
“It changes peoples lives and it is also entertaining.”

Airing Saturday through Wednesday on the local Afghan television network Tolo, Ganjina is the most popular game show in Afghanistan, according to Mr. Mirzad, a former radio reporter for Voice of America. Although no figures are available for specific programs, the network has a market share of 45 percent, or approximately 10-15 million viewers.

Ganjina has not been without its share of controversy. A group of conservative ministers in the government were able take the show off the air this past October, citing that the program depicts gambling and therefore violates Islamic principles. After a few weeks though, according to Mr. Sanjer, the shows producers were able to get it back on the air by convincing the government that it did not highlight gambling. “When you think of all the aspects of the media in Afghanistan, we now have the freedom of speech and the right to entertain people,” says Mr. Sanjer. “We have brought real TV to the Afghan people.”

Producers came up with the idea to bring the show to Afghanistan after watching “Deal or No Deal” on satellite television and realizing its potential, not simply because it was popular in the West, but for a more practical reason. There are other Western-style game shows on Afghan television, but only Ganjina solves a critical problem. “The majority of people in Afghanistan are illiterate,” says Mr. Sanjer. “So we wanted something that would be easy for them to participate. Other shows like “Millionaire,” are difficult because of the questions they ask and the fact that most Afghans cannot read or write.”

The show began its run last May, but so far there has only been one millionaire, Mohammad Sediqi, a government employee.

There is a full color edit of 104 images available upon request.