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In memory of Dariush Mehrjui

I met Iranian filmmaker Dariush Mehrjui at the office of a news daily where I worked as an illustrator. We invited him for a brief discussion with a group of journalists, during the 4th Bengaluru International Film Festival (BIFFes) in 2011. They had a retrospective of the filmmaker, who was the guest of honour at the festival. The retrospective included The Lodgers, Sara, The Pear Tree and The Music Man. Senior journalist Jayanth Kodkani who is himself a cinema enthusiast came up with some interesting questions relatedto the Islamic Revolution, the oppression of Iranian artists, writers and thinkers, and restrictions on all creative movements. He was very charming and cool throughout the discussion and inspired us with motivational answers.

Dariush Mehrjui is a pioneer of the new wave in Iranian cinema — his second film The Cow is considered to be the first film of the movement. Most of his films are inspired by literature and adapted from Iranian and foreign novels and plays. The Cowis adapted from a short story by renowned Iranian literary figure Gholamhossein Sa’edi. The Cow is the story of a man whoowns the only cow in his village. The story begins by showcasing the close relationship between a middle-aged Iranian villager Masht Hassan and his beloved cow. Hassan is married but has no children. His only valuable property is a cow that he cherishes as the only cow in the village. When Hassan leaves the village for a short time, the pregnant cow is found dead in the barn. Hassan‘s fellow villagers fear his reaction and cover up the evidence of the death and tell him upon his return that his cow has run away. He finds great difficulty confronting the loss of his beloved cow, as well as the loss of livestock that affects his social stature in the village.Part of a gradual spiral downward with no end considered to be one of the landmark films in the history of the Iranian New Wave cinema movement.

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Credit: Special Arrangement

After themonarchical government of Mohammad Reza Pahlavi was superseded by the theocratic government of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. The Iranian Revolution of 1979 also led to the replacement of the Imperial State of Iran by the present-day Islamic Republic of Iran. After the revolution, cultural movements took place. The first films considered to be part of this movement are Davoud Mollapour’s Shohare Ahoo Khanoom (1968), Masoud Kimiai’s Qeysar (1969) and Dariush Mehrjui’s The Cow (1969) which was banned and then heavily censored upon its release. This was most likely due to Sa’edi who was the writer of The Cow, being a controversial figure in Iran. His work was highly critical of the Pahlavi government, and he had been arrested 16 times before it was finally released in 1970. It was highly praised and won an award at the Ministry of Culture’s film festival, but it was still denied an export permit In 1971. The film was smuggled out of Iran and submitted to the Venice Film Festival where, without programming or subtitles, it became the largest event of that year’s festival. It won the International Critics Award at Venice.

The pioneers of the Iranian New Wave were directors like Hajir Darioush, Dariush Mehrjui, Masoud Kimiay, Nasser Taqvai, Ebrahim Golestan, Sohrab Shahid Saless, Bahram Beizai, and Parviz Kimiavi, who made innovative art films with highly political and philosophical tones and poetic language.Subsequent films of this type have become known as the New Iranian cinema to distinguish them from their earlier roots. The most notable figures of the Second Wave (after the Islamic Revolution) are Abbas Kiarostami, Mohsen Makhmalbaf, Jafar Panahi, Amir Naderi, Hossein Shahabi, Majid Majidi and Asghar Farhadi.

In 2022, Dariush Mehrjuipublicly dared the officials of the Islamic Republic to kill him for his opposition to censorship. On October14, 2023, Dariushand his wife were found stabbed to death in their home in the city of Karaj, near Tehran.The Islamic Republic has created the conditions that have snuffed out another brilliant Iranian mind. We lost a great filmmaker and innovativethinker.

(Published 20 October 2023, 18:22 IST)

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