Slashing Red Tape on the Silver Screen
by SAYA OVAISY in Tehran
12 Oct 2009 11:55
Ershad is thus a dreaded enemy of publishers, authors, journalists, filmmakers, actors, musicians, dancers, artists, gallery owners, and any citizen who values freedom of expression.
When someone says they are waiting to get a permit from Ershad to screen a film, publish a book, stage an exhibition, etc., she receives wilted, sympathetic looks. Everyone knows applications can be held up at the Ministry (located downtown in Baharestan Square near the Majlis building) for months, with a strong possibility of being rejected in the end. Much like getting a U.S. visa, the process for obtaining an Ershad permit is slow, trying, and uncertain.
Some applicants fare better than others. The status of Ostad ("Maestro") trumps many obstacles, so veterans such as director Abbas Kiarostami, vocalist Shahram Nazeri, and choreographer Pari Saberi navigate the bureaucratic waters with relative speed and ease. Bribes can buy leniency if one is a skilled negotiator. But above all, it is political clout that cuts through Ershad's red tape.
This is why, when a hit like Sham-e Aroosi ("Wedding Dinner") is screened across the country, its bold flouting of the rulebook raises one big question: Who has the clout to get away with that?
The movie, which stars Iranian A-listers Amin Hayayi, Nikki Karimi and popular heartthrob Reza Golzar, is about a father who hates his daughter's fiance (think "Meet the Parents") and plots to sabotage their wedding at any cost. But the comedy gets a generous dose of un-Islamic spice with scenes like when the father (Amin Hayayi) drops ecstasy and goes on a frenzied dance blitz, or dialogue that insinuates sex -- the ultimate taboo, ranking alongside assaults on state politics and religion.
What's more, the film's trailer ran for weeks at theaters to promote it to audiences. This is normal, of course -- until you see the trailer, which features the father explaining the storyline in an extended rap set to a Farsi version of Michael Jackson's "Billy Jean."
As with the 2006 blockbuster Ekhraji-ha ("The Outcasts"), a shocking satire of the Iran-Iraq war directed by Masoud Dehnamaki, an infamous Ansar Hezbollah leader who himself fought in the war and before his foray into filmmaking with a documentary about prostitution in Iran, we can assume the names behind Sham-e Aroosi can be traced far up the Islamic Republic pyramid.
Since foreign films are banned at Iranian theaters, domestic studios and producers need to push the envelope every so often in order to draw crowds. As more 'establishment-types' venture into the movie business, they are likely to lobby Ershad for less stringent censorship to drive up box-office sales. Given the current tightening on cultural laxity, however, it may be awhile until Iranian moviegoers see any more hints of sex, drugs, or rock n' roll on the big screen.
Copyright © 2009 Tehran Bureau