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IRAN unravelled

Each film, at the Iran Film Festival, is imagined as a counter-revolution; more than conventional memoir resonating with the experiences of the people, says SOMA BASU


IT WAS a "first-time-ever" kind of an event but the crowd and its interest showed no signs of waning. Perhaps the unfamiliarity with the rich riverine culture of Iran attracted people in droves to this film festival showcasing the Middle Eastern country's history and culture, civil and political strife, progress and social development and the transition from Islamic theocracy to democracy.

The event at the American College this past week did not end with mere screening of about a dozen films over three days. Instead, "its uniqueness was enhanced" by holding lectures and question-answer sessions that preceded and followed every screening. The overwhelming response has determinedly motivated the organizers to return with more of such novel ideas.

Said Mr.Venkatesh Chakravarthy, Chennai-based noted film scholar, who conducted the talk sessions much to the liking of the "very responsive audience": "People in the metros get ample opportunity to watch films from other parts of the world. But in smaller places like here, there is no such scope and it is as a tribute to movie buffs and students of film studies in smaller places that we bring such a festival."

And true, people did not refrain from taking full advantage of viewing and appreciating both classics and modern contemporary films from Iran as a course in learning. The bill spread out was riveting as the themes and production years of the films captured five decades of advancements in terms of film technology and the turmoil of Iran's great Islamic revolution during its period of transition.

Each film is imagined as a counter-revolution; more than conventional memoir resonating with the experiences of the people living either under the Pahlavi monarchy regime of Mohd.Reza Shah or the idyll of Shia cleric Ayatollah Khomeini or during the Anglo-Russian occupation of Iran or under the rule of Islamic Socialist revolutionary, Mohammed Mossadegh to the present state as an Islamic Republic.

Brave and moving accounts revealed the deceptions of various rules and their respective dehumanizing realities, the birth and growth of rebellion literature, the travails of burgeoning educated middle-class or the so-called small and elite secular intelligentsia which isolated itself from the Iranian masses and created conditions for fervent radicalism.


Given the stringent censorship rules still in practice, the Iranian filmmakers, according to Mr.Chakravarthy, use a lot of metaphor and allegory to highlight their message. "Classic or modern films, all generations of Iranian filmmakers follow the `stories-within-a-story' Arabian Nights tale kind of a formula making it an interesting piece of saga," said the professor of film studies who has taught in universities in India and abroad.

Like our own Satyajit Ray's trilogy (Panther Panchali, Aparajita and Apur Sansar) considered an all-time great, Mr.Chakravarthy picked the triology by Rustam Laorpsta and Abbas Kiarostami whose series, "Where is My Friend's Home", "Under the Olive Tree" and "Life & Nothing Else" as by far one of the greatest works screened here. Unlike Ray's films, these do not follow the life cycle of one individual but a crucial point in one film becomes the basis for the next.

For instance, the first film is about two village boys, one of whom gets admonished by his schoolteacher for not doing the homework in the notebook. The other boy realizes that by mistake he has carried his friend's notebook and goes in search of his friend's house, which is in next village over the hill. He is unable to locate his friend's house but his journey in search is a very self-revealing one with multi-layered meanings as he comes across different kinds of people on the way with whom any audience can identify.

For the second film, the earthquake shattered villages of these two boys form the focal point. Again it is a journey of the filmmaker trying to trace the boys and on the way, discovering how people have coped with the natural disaster and carrying on with their lives. Despite tragic losses suffered by victims, there is a football match going on, a marriage being performed in the film aptly titled "Life & Nothing Else". A particular house in this second film again becomes the centrestage for the third (Under the Olive Tree) which deals with the lives, work and emotions of people living in that house and a tender love story is weaved.

"Low cost slick production, complicated and intriguing themes exploring human relationships and societal taboos, controversies and contradictions all make for a gripping viewing and with which you can instantly identify yourself," shared Mr.Chakravarthy about Iranian films.

Mohsen Makhmalbaf's "Marriage of the Blessed" was another big draw at the festival. It is the story of a war photographer who loses his mental balance after an assignment on the warfront. Through his irrational mind, a metaphoric commentary is made on the failed Iranian revolution, the inequalities in society, a war on history.

But it was perhaps feminist director Bani Etemad's "Blue Veiled" that evoked many questions from the audience. Mr.Chakravarthy drew a comparison with Bharathiraja's Tamil film "Mudhal Mariyathai".

One of the oldest films screened at the festival was "The Cow" directed by Dariush Mehrujie. It is about a village farmer and his relationship with his cow. When the cow dies, its soul enters the farmer and through allegory the film evolves an alternate system to beat the existing system.

Lamenting the inability to get the internationally acclaimed "Apple" by 19 year old Sameera Makhmalbaf which received the Grand Jury's Honour at the Cannes two years ago and "Kandahar" -- the much publicized story of a woman escaping from the clutches of Taliban, the organizers on their part had got some of the best films from what is called the Dark Age of Iranian cinema and also the new age modern cinema.

The widely acclaimed "The Cyclist" , "Iran Spread", "Paper Aeroplane" were some of the other films screened during the festival which was organized jointly by the Iranian Film Club from Delhi called Negah, the American College Film Club, TBAK College for Women, Kilakarai, an organization called Kunnankunnangurr from Kongankulam and Madurai-based Puthiya Kaatru Magazine and Friends of Cinema (FoC).

Buoyed by success, FoC plans to return with a festival of African films next year. Last year they held a Chinese film fare with equal success. "Over the next decade, we will try to focus on films from Korea, Japan, East European countries because they too make extraordinary films which go unnoticed given Hollywood's hegemonic presence in the business," promised Mr.Chakravarthy.

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