Majidi: India Shares Cultural Affinity, History with Iran

Acclaimed Iranian director Majid Majidi was in India to launch his first Indo-Iranian joint venture. He directed Academy-nominated best foreign film ‘Children of Heaven’ and will be shooting extensively in India for his new film which will have an entire Indian cast. His first film ‘Baduk’ was presented at Cannes and won several awards. Since then, Majidi has written and directed several films that won worldwide recognition, including Rang-e Khoda (1999).

Apart from directing a documentary, Barefoot to Herat which chronicles life in refugee camps during the anti-Taliban offensive of 2001, Majidi has directed three feature films – Color of Paradise (2000), Baran (2001), and The Willow Tree (2005). He is also one of the five directors invited by China to make a documentary to introduce Beijing for the 2008 Olympics. He shares his thoughts on India, Iran and the cinema of today with Meenakshi Sinha.

Why is there an increasing interest in Iranian cinema?

Its popularity and success has much to do with its humanistic approach. In addition, it’s a country that’s constantly in the news. Cinema has helped in making people understand and know more about Iran because the portrayal through the media is far from reality. For example, people think Iran is a violent country. But when they see my films which are more about the human spirit, they realize the truth.

India is also about human relations and culture. Is it because of this connection that you are making a film in India?

I’ve always loved the cinema of Satyajit Ray as I was a big fan of him. I consider him a great master of cinema. However, my interest in India began with my visits here from 1996 and less through Indian cinema.

What are your observations on India?

India has a huge amount of poetic literature and a rich Sufi tradition. Plus, there are contrasts like the co-existence of poor and rich. At another level, India shares cultural affinity and history with Iran, in terms of its poets, architects and music. Taj Mahal and Humayun’s Tomb have influences from Iranian craft. Similarly, some of the great Sufi spiritual leaders like Shamadan came and settled in here. Of course, there’s a huge Muslim population in India which is a natural cause of interest.

Your films touch a chord because of its portrayal of human emotions and relations. Where do you draw inspiration from?

One is from the 3,000-year-old rich Iranian civilization. There’s also a repertoire of poetic literature, be it Maulana Rumi, Hafiz, Sa’di and Omar Khayyam which explores ethics and morality. Iranian cinema has to be understood within this cultural heritage.

As against the perception in the West, your films portray women as strong characters.

The value of mothers and wives in Iranian society is extremely important. Therefore my characters depict reality. If it was fake, my cinema wouldn’t move people. The West’s perception of women in Iran is misinformed. In fact, if they (West) start saying positive things about Iran and its women, then you have to be suspicious (laughs).

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