Hey Bollywood Fans! I’ve been in Iran, well more precisely watching some Iranian cinema. With all the recent turmoil in Iran, I thought the least I could do is watch some of their movies. I was inspired to do this after seeing NBC’s special Behind the veil: Inside Iran which included an interview with director Tahmineh Milani.
Over and over again in Iran, we meet women who are challenging the status quo. Like filmmaker Tahmineh Milani.
Tahmineh Milani: I believe this way. This is the– best way to change people.
Milani is one of the most popular and respected directors in Iran. She’s won numerous international awards for her films, most of which are about the unseen lives of middle-class women in Iran.
Tahmineh Milani: They accept their situation. And they don’t talk, they don’t protest. But they suffer.
Her movies have to be cleared by censors. At least three have been banned. She says that earlier in her career, she challenged the country’s top censor.
Tahmineh Milani: I went there and he start to– accuse me. And he said, “We will bring you and we will– beat you– here.”
Ann Curry: Whip you.
Tahmineh Milani: Yes, whip you. Yes, yes, yeah, whip you.
She was not beaten, but pregnant with twins at the time, she says the stress took its toll. She gave birth prematurely. Her daughter lived.
Tahmineh Milani: And after two, three days my son died.
Ann Curry: Why didn’t you stop your work?
Tahmineh Milani: Because I believe my way. Because, I believe– I can be useful in my society, because this is my society. This is my country. We really love Iran. I choose to live here and I want to keep this place.
In 2001, she made a film called “the hidden half” about a woman unjustly sentenced to death. Ironically, after the film was released, Milani was arrested and jailed and faced the death penalty herself.
Ann Curry: They accused you of being anti-God.
Tahmineh Milani: Yeah, and three–
Ann Curry: Other charges.
Tahmineh Milani: –more dangerous than these.
She says she was given a stern warning:
Tahmineh Milani: “We are going to kill you to be good lesson to another people.”
Ann Curry: They said that to you? They said, “We’re gonna kill you”?
So far I’ve seen Milani’s Do Zan (Two Women), 1999; Nimeh-ye Penhān (aka The Hidden Half), 2001; and Vākonesh-e Panjom (aka The Fifth Reaction), 2003 and I’ll share a bit about each here. It was interesting that all three films starred Niki Karimiand in each film her character was named Fereshteh, though they were each separate unrelated characters. I found that Fereshteh is a Persian name for Angel.
Similar to many Indian films, every the Iranian films all started off with a dedication to God. Since God watches movies, I’m sure he/she appreciates the shout outs. I like that merging of art and religion, but I don’t like at American music awards shows how artists thank Jesus, or the Lord, or Jesus my Lord and Savior, I suppose because I’m some sort of hypocrite, but I digress. I should start every post, “In the name of God.”
Two Women charts the lives of two promising architecture students over the course of the first turbulent years of the Islamic Republic, creating a portrait of traditions that conspire to trap women and stop them from realizing their full potential. The film won the best screenplay award at Iran’s Fajr Film Festival in 1999 as well as Best Actress for Niki Karimi‘s part in the Taormina Film Festival. (source)
Well looks like the more things change the more they stay the same, hai na? So if the political situation weren’t enough, Fereshteh is being stalked by a psycho.
It’s not quite love, since he follows her with a knife and threatens her and her friends. Long story short, she goes back to her home town to avoid the maniac, but he hunt her down. One day while he follows stalks Fereshteh, she drives into a group of kids and kills one of them. This causes her family disgrace, even though it wasn’t her fault at all. To the “rescue” in court comes man number two, and poor Fereshteh’s dad marries her off to this guy, who I think is just as bad as the stalker.
Her mom can’t help her, since her dad and men in general run the show. Now here’s a snap from their little nikkah (wedding) ceremony. I suppose you may know that the women and girl in the background are doing that happy little screaming thing, but I interpreted it as yawning: they wanted to see a proper Indian wedding ala Bollywood. See how dull:
So the husband is a real tyrant and controls Fereshteh as much as possible:
Sort of makes the stalker seem romantic by comparison. Eventually she wants out of the abusive marriage and goes to her family for support without luck.
Well I’d say hey, why not help your daughter, after all you’re the one who married her off to that creep.
Next I saw Nimeh-ye Penhān(aka The Hidden Half) from 2001 and if you’re expecting a happier story than Do Zan, give up now.
An official is sent from his home in Tehran to hear the final appeal of a woman sentenced to death, a political prisoner. The official’s wife of nearly 20 years, Fereshteh Samimi, writes him a letter to read when he reaches the hotel – the story of her student days during the revolution of 1978. We see the story in flashbacks as he reads: she leaves her province on scholarship, joins a Communist youth group, avoids arrest, and comes under the sway of a suave older man, Roozbeh Javid, a literary-magazine editor. As she tells her husband about the hidden half of her life, Fereshteh asks that he listen to the woman facing execution, a woman and therefore one of Iran’s hidden half. (source)
Fereshteh meets an older man, Javid (Mohammad Nikbin), and there’s a mutual attraction, but despite being an intellectual, he patronizes her.
She asks the party leader the official view on romantic love:
She gets tired of wearing the seemingly required communist outfits and again questions the party official.
One of Mr. Javid’s associates helps set Fereshteh straight about the struggle:
I believe the movie’s title, the Hidden Half, not only referred to Fereshteh’s earlier life that her husband didn’t know about but also the (hidden) wife of the older man who pursues her. Later in life Javid and Fereshteh meet again. He speaks to her about love and to me she looks a bit like Aishwarya Rai here, right?
Finally, the last Milani movie I saw was Vākonesh-e Panjom (aka The Fifth Reaction) from 2003.
Fereshteh loses her home and her two sons after her husband’s accidental death when Hadj Safdar, her stubborn and powerful father-in-law, forces her to return to her parents. She is faced with the loss of her visitation rights when Hadj plans to send his grandchildren to live in a remote town. With the help of her circle of women friends she tries to take them beyond his reach, but in a patriarchal society it is hard to find a safe haven. (source)
Fereshteh is out with the gals in Tehran talking about their teaching jobs. Her friends are encouraging Fereshteh to stop mourning her husband.
Her friend also is talking about how great her own relationship with her husband is, but opps! He walks into the same restaurant with his young secretary.
And then comes the attempted tight slap to the face. How dare she question her husband! Luckily the owner of the place is a true gentleman and sends the crazed, tyrannical husband on his way.
Fereshteh’s father in law, Hadj Safdar, played by Jamshid Hashempur, tells her that she must either marry her brother in law now that she’s a widow, or he will take her two sons from her. He believes she’d no doubt be a temptation to his other son and would work in conjunction with the devil.
It becomes a game of cat and mouse between Fareshtah and her father in law. He tries to track her and her sons down all around Tehran and into the countryside. Notice like many a Bollywood villains how Hadj wears more that one ring, which I see as a bad sign! Furthermore, whenever you see a pinkie ring, run! It’s never good.
The other Iranian films I’ve seen are 10 by director Abbas Kiarostami, and Baran by Majid Majidi, which I’ll cover in a post in the next day or two…then it’s back to Bollywood yaar! Have you seen any of these films or other Iranian films? Let me know.