Threats, bans part of life of Iran filmmakers: Niki Karimi

Threats, bans part of life of Iran filmmakers: Niki Karimi

India Blooms News Service | 17 Nov 2014

Indian film buffs who are festival regulars are familiar with the name and face of the beautiful Niki Karimi. She is Iran's first star with a charisma of her own who has acted in off-mainstream films in Iran and graduated to film making alongside acting. She was present at the 20th Kolkata International Film Festival (KIFF). Several films featuring her in the lead and a couple of films she has directed were part of the festival. In a brief one-to-one, Niki opened up about her career as actress and as director in Iran.
 
 
Let us hear about your first experience as debutante actress
 
I was very young when I made my debut in Jamshed Heydari's Temptation in 1989. I was barely out of my teens. This was followed by The Bride (1990) directed by Behrouz Afkhami. It is really an irony of life that my films were successful and I became an actress which I never really wanted to be. The Bride became a runaway hit and here I am. I have acted in over 50 films over the past 25 years.
 
It is said that you learnt English because you wanted to read English literature in the original. Is this right? 
 
My passion for poetry within literature is the main trigger that made me learn and study English. I began to translate works that moved me from English to Persian. I have also translated poetry.I became acquainted with literature during my participation in school dramas. My first work of translation was Marlon Brando's Songs my Mother taught Me (1999). I have also translated Intimacy (2005) and his other books. But I do not adapt films from literature. I create films on social issues that concern us concurrent with the time I make them in.
 
How difficult is it for a woman filmmaker to make films in Iran?
 
Both men and women filmmakers have to go through great hurdles to make films. Threats and bans are part of the life of any Iranian filmmaker. First, they vet the script. Second, we must secure permission about who we are casting because the powers-that-be do not want blacklisted persons to be cast. Besides, it is mandatory to hire the cast through the Islamic Culture Ministry. Four, a supervisor is present during the shooting and the editing. Last but not the least, we need clearance before public screening. It is more than censorship because this 'clearance' can be for a limited period depending on the decision of the powers-that-be.
 
But we get excellent films that can often be read as powerful political statements on the condition of women and families. How is this possible?
 
In the post-revolution years, after 1979, Iran's cinema got financial aid from the government and encouraged an entire generation of filmmakers to make significant films in their own distinct ways. These directors tried to sidestep the obstacles by concentrating on subjects that featured children in the lead caught in realistic situations. Majid Majidi's Children of Heaven is an example. Abbas Kiarostami's Where is My Friend's House is another.Yet, the cultural rootedness brings across its own aesthetics, its own poetry, its own rhythm.
 
You have worked under all major directors in Iranian cinema. Whose work have you been influenced by the most?
 
If I must mention one name, it is Abbas Kiarostami. He has made a deep impact on me as an actress and also as a director. But I must also add that I have learnt from all directors I have worked with over the years because they have different things to teach. I have worked with Jafar Panahi, Mohmed Makhmalbaf, Dariush Meherjui, Manijeh Hekmat, Tehmineh Milani, the works. I found playing the role in Sara (1993) difficult because I was very young and relatively new as an actress. I was not professional at the time so my approach appears naive to me today.
 
What brought you into direction?
 
I wanted to make films on social causes that move me in some way as a woman. It can be a social issue, or an agenda for women. My debut feature One Night, was  not allowed screening in my own country though it went to Cannes and other big festivals. That does not stop me from making films. I enjoy both acting and directing because in acting, I am expressing the character designed by someone else and doing what the director tells me to do. When I direct, I actually create a film and I pick subjects that move me or have made an impact on me or need to be talked about.My films are mainly about social problems.But I do not like to put labels such as 'modernist' or 'protest' before my films as a prefix. I do not make commercial films but I sometimes act in them for basic needs.
 
(Reporting by Shoma A. Chatterji, images by Avishek Mitra) 
 

 

Threats, bans part of life of Iran filmmakers: Niki Karimi

India Blooms News Service
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