One of the highlights of the ongoing 12th Osian’s Cinefan Film Festival is Dariush Mehrjui’s The Orange Suit, a sarcastically comic look at how shabbily we treat our environment. About a photographer who one fine morning realises the enormous significance of respecting the environment around him, The Orange Suit punches us out of our slumber. It is particularly relevant in India, where people’s callousness is driving the environment to doom.
Born in Tehran in 1939, Mehrjui studied cinema in California, the very heart of Hollywood, and even took classes with a master like Renoir, before he made a thriller, Diamond 33. But it was his second feature, The Cow, that brought him international fame. Signalling the emergence of the new Iranian cinema, The Cow was banned by the Shah’s censors, because they felt it was a dark portrayal of the society. But Mehrjui was not one to be cowed down: he smuggled his movie into the 1971 Venice Film Festival. Despite it lacking English or Italian subtitles, The Cow proved to be the event of the year, and received the critics’ award.
The Iranian director made several movies since then, including his best known, The Cycle, and the politically metaphorical, The Postman. Now in New Delhi with his latest, The Orange Suit, he told me at New Delhi’s Siri Fort, how even as a child he had been “angry” about the dirt all around. “I used to watch all these American films and envy the cleanliness of their cities and towns. Their roads were beautifully paved, and were kept spotlessly clean”.
In Iran, most cities and towns are still populated, with men and women caring little for their surroundings. “They keep dirtying picnic spots, the pretty places by the river, the greens of the jungles…They do not seem to bother how they dispose of their garbage, especially plastics, which does not even disintegrate”.
Mehrjui said The Orange Suit, which was released in Iran a couple of months ago, had not only been well received, but also was making some sort of dent in the way people looked at their own environment. Cleaners at the cinemas where the movie was screened saw how people felt ashamed to dirty the auditoriums. They were seen carrying their popcorn tubs and Coke cans outside to be disposed of into garbage bins.
Though Mehrjui never faced the kind of fate fellow helmer Jafer Panahi had to (he is still under house arrest), Dariush’s works had been banned (which he calls imprisonment), some for as long as 11 years. “The School I Went To” was not allowed to be screened for that long a period, and when it finally got permission for public exhibition, it was mutilated beyond belief”, Mehrjui rued.
Call it compromise or resignation, Mehrjui now appears to have resigned himself to the ways of the Iranian dictatorship and the clergy who controls it. The Orange Suit though discussing a serious issue which concerns each one of us, may well be a politically correct piece of cinema. Which has found favour with Tehran.