Interestingly, the ravishing Iranian actress, Golshifteh Farahani, extends her intrinsic rebelliousness to the roles she plays. An excellent actress, she left her own country five years ago when the regime there began to stifle her personal freedom. She chose Paris, the land of liberty, to portray parts on the screen that were beautiful, brilliant and bold. Very bold.
Hiner Saleem’s Cannes entry, My Sweet Pepper Land, which just showed in the ongoing 7th edition of the Abu Dhabi Film Festival, has Farahani essaying a school teacher in a remote Kurdish village, bravely warding off the brutal local chieftain and his gang of desperados. Against the wishes of her 12 goofy brothers, but with her father’s consent, she stays alone, and eventually falls in love with a freedom-fighter (Saddam Hussein has fallen)-turned policeman, who mans an outpost in the village vowing to uphold the law and stop the chieftain’s smuggling of arms and liquor.
My Sweet Pepper Land has bold scenes with Farahani and the cop. The plot itself centres on the value of education and woman’s empowerment – both of which are resisted by the male authoritarianism in Saleem’s socially provocative work.
In fact, Farahani has had a penchant for such portrayals. In an earlier movie, The Patience Stone, which went to several festivals in 2012, including Abu Dhabi, her character in the film is quite akin to her own real self. The movie is a “statement of rebellion” – much like A Sweet Pepper Land, where as Govend, she even sleeps with the policeman in sheer defiance of Kurdish societal norms.
In The Patience Stone, the woman, played by Farahani, is seen tending to her comatose husband with a bullet in his neck, and as the plot progresses, she begins to confess to her husband — partly to fight her loneliness and her boredom. The confessions stretch over several days, and with the passing of time, they get increasingly daring and scandalous. A point comes when they get so sexually outrageous that they shake the man out of his coma. The film ends on a note of sheer drama. Farahani was wonderful as the tortured wife.
It is not just in cinema that Farahani displays her brand of boldness. Recently, she was seen in a short French video promoting the Cesars (France’s equivalent of the Oscars), where she bared her right breast and said, “I will put flesh to your dreams.” Teheran was furious, and said that this was the “disgusting face of cinema”. But the actress was not to be shackled. She went on to pose in the nude for the fashion photographer, Paolo Roversi. Farahani averred that she felt that he was “passing through me” when he was taking the photographs.
Even as a schoolgirl, Farahani never hid her cheekiness. Once, she convinced her classmates to boycott school because it had no heating. Another time, she played Cupid by lying to her parents so that her sister could meet her boyfriend. (We saw something similar in Saudi helmer Haifaa al Mansour’s Wadjda, where a little girl helps older girls pass their letters to their lovers.)
Farahani grew even more daring when she became a teenager. At 16, she shaved her head in protest against the scarf -- something that no girl would do. Not just this, but she dressed like a boy and cycled around Teheran. At 17, she took up acting when her parents insisted that she learn the piano.
It is this Farahani that I met the other day at Abu Dhabi, who surprised me when she said that she was very fond of India, a country she has been travelling to since the past 10 years. “India is my mother, she said with a look that longed. “When I am far from India, I feel that I am far from my mother”.
Farahani is all set to visit Goa in the next few days where she will take part in a conference on human rights – and how apt that will be for her. “It is a very, very important meeting, where a lot of important people from all over the world will come”, she told me.
What she seemed to be even more excited about was her long stay in India. “After the conference, I will be at the International Film Festival of India in Panaji from November 20. Between the conference and the Festival, I am going to be spending time in Karnataka, in one of those tree houses in a place called Paradise Island”, her eyes glow.
Farahani is flying all right, and right in “Paradise”. “India is my life, my very breath. That is where I go to refresh myself”, Farahani is sure in love with the land. She feels that India is the only country where she finds peace. “It is the only democracy in the world”.
(Gautaman Bhaskaran has been following the life and films of Golshifteh Farahani)