Since last few years cinemas of Iran are making waves in the film industry. I have been hearing, reading about their presence in every major film festival in India. I also got to witness, first hand, the charm they have produced in the film appreciation course which I was part of recently. A famous movie titled A Separation was screened and discussion took place as well in that workshop. This was directed by Asghar Farhadi. The other famous name of cinema of Iran includes Majid Majidi, whose film The Children of Heaven was also screened there. Both these created a different kind of impression in my mind about cinema of Iran. This was exactly the reason why I sat down in front of the television when I noticed that it was about to show a film titled Rosewater, which I initially thought would be cinema of Iran. Though technically it is not a film of Iran, in the sense that it is not directed by director from Iran, the subject seemed related to Iran per synopsis. It is actually an American film, but it is about certain events in Iran.
And I was happy in the end that I sat through it. I even had skipped attending flag hoisting ceremony, which I make it a point to attend on both occasions of the year. This time it was flag hoisting on the occasion of Republic Day celebrations. The movie made me spellbound and kept me to the edge of my seat. Yes, it is survival movie, no doubt. I feel the reason for that was the powerful story, which is real-life story of journalist of Iranian origin, named Maziar Bahari. The film begins with young Maziar visiting mosque in Iran. The tradition there is that every devotee is sprinkled with rose water upon entry. This was interesting, I was thinking, while watching. Like many households, at my home, also we have गुलाबदाणी(rose water sprinkler) and have a tradition of sprinkling it on guests during religious and other functions. The history tells that this custom came to India via Mughal who borrowed it from Iran(then Persia). Anyways, the movie then shows briefly the process of making rose water. And then it flashes ahead into shot where Maziar gets arrested from his mother’s home in Iran.
The story unfolds slowly in front of us. The narration tells us that Maziar’s father and sister had been involved in activities related to protests against Iran’s government. Maziar himself is living in London, with his wife who is pregnant. He is journalist for American magazine Newsweek. He leaves for Iran on an assignment, to cover general election which are taking place in 2009. Returning to Iran, meeting his mother, he certainly gets nostalgic. He goes around city of Tehran with help of local taxi driver, talking to people about the emotions around election. He also goes shooting, filming various events, taking places during that time.
The filming of this part in the movie where he going around in the city gives nice exposure to Tehran, its people. He also ends up being part of satire show where he makes comments which are against Iran’s government. This and a filming of killing at a protest lands him in trouble. Suddenly, film comes to the scene where he is being arrested at his home. That is where the turning point of the film is. Iran’s government’s paranoid agency is suspecting him to be a spy. He is then interrogated, put into the jail for more than 100 days, also blind folded. The film shows details of his harassment, interrogation. The pain of the hopeless situation he goes through is quite gripping. It recounts how he battles these things. The title of the film comes from fragrance applied by interrogator which seems to be similar to rose water, that had become identity for Maziar who is blind folded.
The underlying theme is, of course, press freedom. And also how Iran is viewed by western world, and also vice versa. Many scenes depict these themes, and also referring to real life clippings such as Hillary Clinton”s appeal to release him. Most of the movie is pretty serious, but at time one sees Hot Shots(Charlie Sheen starred parody movie) like treatment of parody and comedy. Not sure if this was part of original memoir or was included in the script later. One such example, about a story Maziar tells to interrogator about sexual massage and how he is addicted to it. And that is the reason for his frequent trips to New Jersey(city of Fort Lee), and then laughs at the whole thing. I believe similar movies are there involving Iraq’s supremo Saddam Hussein. I am sure in the future, we will see parody movies around relation between Trump and North Korea leader Kim.
Anyways, this movie brings forth Iran’s political image which is one thing. Many of the famous cinemas of Iran, which I mentioned at the beginning, cover social aspects of Iran. I don’t remember any similar survival/captive stories filmed as movies in India. Not sure why we, in India, don’t have movies on some of the famous captivities such as Kannada superstar Rajkumar’s capture by brigand Veerappan or capture of Marathi forest officer and researcher in Arunachal Pradesh by Bodo terrorists.