Iranian filmmaker Mehdi Rahmani: Artists thrive on censorship 

Iranian filmmaker Mehdi Rahmani was in Chennai for Asian Cine Experience, where his film ‘Boarding Pass’ had its Red Carpet premiere. He talks about his film and censorship in Iran among other things

Iranian filmmaker Mehdi Rahmani: Artists thrive on censorship 

Murtaza Ali Khan

Q. What are your thoughts on the Asian Cine Experience? How was the response to your film?

Ans. I believe it is a wonderful platform for Asian filmmakers to showcase their talent to Indian viewers. I particularly like the idea of choosing from Asian films that haven’t been screened in India before. I personally am quite thrilled by the overwhelming response that my film Boarding Pass has got here.

Q. Your film deals with a very difficult subject and is said to be inspired by true events. How much of it is real and how much is fictional?

Ans. Four years ago, I was traveling to Italy for a film festival. So, at an international airport in Iran, I saw police arresting somebody. When I inquired, they told me that he was a body packer. I learnt that they swallow large quantities of drugs in order to smuggle them out of the country. Throughout the trip, I kept thinking about the incident. That’s how the initial research started. Then, after three months, one of my musician friends told me about one of his students living in the south of Tehran. When I met him, he revealed it to me that he had worked as a body packer once. He had to do it for his mother, who needed a surgery. He connected us with a lot of young boys and girls who had been doing it for the drug mafia. So, my characters Mansour and Nida are actual people and their stories are inspired by real incidents.

Q. How do you see the prospects of Asian cinema in the international arena?

Ans. Today, more than ever, the people in the West are being drawn towards Asian cinema and culture at large. There is a greater audience for films from India, Japan, Korea, Singapore and Iran. Also, let’s not forget that Asian cinema is very rich in terms of human emotions, as opposed to Hollywood which is unable to look beyond superhero franchises at this point of time.

Q. What, according to you, is the purpose of cinema? Is there more to it than entertainment?

Ans. First, I believe that entertainment is not a low-level world. It may mean different things to different persons. In my opinion, if, as a filmmaker, you can involve the audiences for, say, the entire two or three hour duration of your film through the use of various elements, whether drama or suspense or humour, you are successful. On the contrary, if you fail to impact your audience, I don’t think you can call it cinema.

Q. In spite of restrictions, Iranian cinema has given us some very fine films. What are your thoughts on censorship and how does it affect you as a filmmaker?

Ans. Cinema affects the society but, at the same time, society also affects cinema. Iranian society has had to face a lot of pressure from different governments. So, it has never been easy for artists to speak freely. You see, the censorship in Iran is threepronged. It begins with the very first stage when, as writers, we are forced to impose self-censorship in order to ensure that our work sees the light of the day. In the next stage, the government may exercise censorship by bringing the shoot to a premature halt. If, however, I am still able to complete my film, then finally I must deal with the state censorship board. Sometimes, the censorship is enforced by certain societal or religious norms. So, it is next to impossible to fight that. But the thing with artists is that they thrive on any kind of suppression. As filmmakers, there is a strong urge to address the day-to-day problems that we face in our country though our films. So the onus is upon us to find creative ways of showing the reality. Even if we are able to bring about a small change through our films, I think it is well worth the effort.

Q. Recently, legendary Iranian filmmaker Majid Majidi came to India and directed Beyond the Clouds with an Indian cast and crew. Are you open to working in India, if a suitable opportunity comes by?

Ans. This is my fourth visit to India. During these visits, I have grown fond of Indian food and culture. Also, the people here have always been so warm. For me, a country like India is far more interesting than Europe for filmmaking because I would love to explore the different layers of the rich culture here. But, for the next two years, I am going to be in the US for my next project. After that, I am definitely open to an opportunity of working here in India.

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Published: 27 Oct 2018, 4:15 PM