The famed Iranian director, Jafar Panahi, whose The White Balloon, The Circle and Crimson Gold among others have been hailed as masterpieces, has made another film. It is called Taxi.
What is new about Taxi, one would ask. It is his latest and third movie since the Iranian Government banned him from making cinema. The restriction, which was enforced in 2010, is to run till 2030, and for some time Panahi was also under house arrest.
But neither the ban nor his incarceration has dimmed his passion to get behind the camera and churn out three pictures - This Is Not A Film, screened at Cannes in 2011, Closed Curtain, which premiered at the 2013 Berlin, and now Taxi.
This Is Not A Film was shot secretly in Panahi's own home, and includes a reading from the script of a movie he was planning to make before misfortune overtook him. Closed Curtain was also shot clandestinely in the helmer's villa on the Caspian Sea, and narrates the story of a writer who hides his dog in a secluded house - afraid that the authorities will kill his pet and punish him. Dogs are considered unclean under Islamic law.
To shoot Taxi, Panahi fooled the law by turning a yellow cab into a mobile film studio and placed a camera on the dashboard. As the taxi cruises through the colourful streets of Teheran, Panahi, who plays the driver, picks up different kinds of passengers, many of whom have candid conversations with him. It may well seem like the One Thousand and One Stories of the Arabian Night.
Panahi has always averred that cinema is the very meaning of his life, and that he can do nothing else but make movies. And this urge has driven him to make his third feature - in defiance of the ban and under very difficult conditions. He had This Is Not A Film smuggled into Cannes in a pen-drive, hidden inside a cake!
Panahi's problem began in 2009 when he was part of the Green Wave uprising protesting against the reportedly rigged re-election of former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
Although, Panahi is somewhat freer now with the house arrest not being strictly implemented, there is still the threat of a prison term hanging heavily on him. Iran, now under President Hassan Rouhani, is somewhat less harsh on moviemakers.
Paris-based Celluloid Dreams will distribute Taxi worldwide.