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Makhmalbaf to shoot first feature in five years

world cinema Updated: Feb 11, 2014 16:05 IST
Gautaman Bhaskaran
Gautaman Bhaskaran
Hindustan Times
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One of the finest movie directors the world has known, Iran's Mohsen Makhmalbaf, will begin shooting his first fiction feature in five years. Called The President, it will be set in a fictional Caucasus country, though it will be actually filmed in Tbilisi, Georgia's capital city.

The plot will appear familiar to an Indian. About a dictator whose regime falls after a coup, The President then traces his adventure as he and his young grandson, disguised as street singers, travel across the country to get to know the grievances of the people.

Indian folklore has many such tales of how kings masked themselves as beggars or small vendors to gauge the mood of their subjects.

"We are more than excited to be working once again with Mohsen Makhmalbaf and his family on this extraordinarily powerful and contemporary take on one of the crucial subjects of our time," said Robinet of the BAC Films, one of the producers. "This universal story, is not only emotionally very moving, it transcends borders, languages and genres: and will certainly work both with art house and mainstream audiences. Confident in tone, this contemporary fable is both tender and funny, will appeal to people all over the world."

As has always been the case, Makhmalbaf's movies are a family affair. His wife, Marzieh, and son, Maysam, will edit the film, while daughters Hana and Samira will form part of the key crew. Samira herself is a director of some repute, having made movies like The Apple, Blackboards and At Five in the Afternoon - some with her father's active help in scripting.

Makhmalbaf, who fled to London after the election of Iran's Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in 2005 and has been living there since then, is now a vociferous critic of the Islamic Republic.

Last year, he hit the headlines when he broke a sacred taboo by visiting Israel. Invited by the Jerusalem Film Festival, the helmer - who was jailed for four years under the late Shah's rule - provoked the wrath of his countrymen. Israel had threatened a pre-emptive strike against Iran on the nuclear weapons issue.

Makhmalbaf, whose 2001 prize-winner, Kandahar, was listed by Time as one of the 100 greatest movies, showed his docudrama, The Gardner, at Jerusalem. It talks about a son and father discussing religion, in particular the Baha'i faith, and the film garnered huge applause and critical acclaim.

The director was moved by this response. "There was an amazing reaction, they showed The Gardener three times and each time the theatre was full and hundreds of people queuing up outside who wanted to come in," he said. "They clapped for so long. And I asked them if you are so much interested in our art, why is that your government is going to attack us?"

Makhmalbaf has been trying to change Tel Aviv's perception of Iran for a long, long time. In 1996, he sent his Gabbeh, on Iran's nomadic tribes, to Israel for commercial screening. This was the first Iranian work to be shown in Israel's cinemas. The director said then that he had sent the movie to Israel to try and change the mind of the people there about Iran.

Israelis may have, but Iranians, by and large, appear not to have.