October 2020. It had hardly been a year since Apple TV+ launched in India, and Ted Lasso, the streaming service’s first major success, was creating waves all around the world. Along and far removed from that noise came Tehran, a spy thriller about an Israeli agent’s attempt to infiltrate Iran, creating ripples of its own.
Co-created by Fauda writer Moshe Zonder, the first season starring Niv Sultan, Shervin Alenaby and Shaun Toub went on to win the award for the Best Drama series at the International Emmy Awards. Returning for a second season now, the show’s cast boasts international faces like Glenn Close.
Close says the global viewership offered by the platform that attracted her to the show. “They went into a country that’s not necessarily English-speaking, found a story, and offered it a chance to be seen around the world,” she says over a Zoom call. “I think that’s going to be the future,” she adds.
Attesting to the international credentials of the show, Close recalls how an actor she met on set turned out to be in fact an Iranian refugee, playing the role of an Iranian revolutionary guard in an Israeli show shot in Athens, Greece.
From initial impressions, her character seems to be one operating from a position of power. One can’t help but be reminded of Angela Bassett and Alicia Vikander from Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation and Jason Bourne; similar characters from movies set in similar worlds. When asked if she sees a pattern here, Close says, “I think people are learning that women can be compelling and tough.”
“I think as strong women we will always be problematic. I don’t think we’ll ever be easy,” Close says after emphasising that it is also necessary for these movies to make money.
Close began her 40-year-old film career back in 1982 with the Robin Williams-starrer The World According to Garp. Since then, she has borne witness to many changes. While the #MeToo movement, equal pay for equal roles, inclusion of diverse cast and crew members are some of the good things to have come about, Close feels the churning is still underway.
However, Close is not merely a spectator to these changes but a beneficiary too. The parts coming her way at the age of 75 years is a testament to this.
Israeli actress Niv Sultan essays the lead role of Tamar Rabinayan in the show. For her, Tehran helped bridge the gap between the two cultures. “I discovered the warmth of the people, how accepting they [Iranians] are.”
“Honestly, it reminded me of Israelis.” — a thought echoed by executive producer Dana Eden as well after interacting with the Iranian cast members on the show.
Sultan also says the show made her feel at home. “They [Iranians] embraced me,” Sultan adds.
Causing an impact
Sequels normally provide makers with an opportunity to go bigger and delve deeper. But Tehran’s makers chose to focus on the social divide in the country. “The presence of corrupt elites is something that the country shares with the rest of the world and hence people can identify with,” co-creator Dana Eden says.
“In Iran, it’s a special condition because it is a religious country with constraints. But the elites are free from these constraints. Tamar is infiltrating these elites to show the viewers these conditions.”
Iran and Israel have shared hostile relations over the years. While there have been no threats against the show, Iranians have been keeping a close watch, Eden says. “There have been a lot of references in the Iranian media; a member of parliament even spoke about it in the parliament.”
“We know they are interested in the show. Whenever people speak about it, it means we are doing something right. Now let’s see what they say about the second season,” Eden adds.
Season two of Tehran is now streaming on Apple TV+ with weekly episodes