In Mehrjui’s world, story is the king

The Iranian master has been awarded IFFK’s Lifetime Achievement Award this year.

Updated - March 24, 2016 02:40 pm IST

Published - December 09, 2015 12:00 am IST - Thiruvananthapuram:

In Dariush Mehrjui’s world, the screenplay is the one shining star, around which rotate the paler ones – the technique, the visuals and everything else. It is with a strange sense of pride that the Iranian film-maker says, “I have written all my screenplays myself”.

“The science of screenplay writing is important, much important that the actual directing of the film. A good director is someone who could direct a screenplay, written by yourself or somebody else. I think it is the story that runs cinema, not the photography, or editing. When the screenplay is good, it makes the other elements also good,” says Mehrjui, in an interview to The Hindu . The International Film Festival of Kerala conferred this year’s Lifetime Achievement Award on Mehrjui on Tuesday, on the day of his 76th birthday.

This primacy for the content is reflected in his recollections of his days in University of California, Los Angeles, where the French auteur Jean Renoir was one of his teachers.

“Fortunately for me, I was able to study there at least on the last year that Renoir was there, teaching cinema and acting. I learned a lot from him. But there were others who were mostly dealing with technical things, which I could always learn elsewhere. The important thing was that I could see a lot of films, read a lot of scripts and plays,” he says.

Back home, he wanted to make the kind of films that he grew up watching, of Bergman, De Sica and others.

“When I got back to Iran, I was just 26 years old and I had with me several scenarios, like that of ‘The Cow’ (his second film). But I couldn’t find any producer and had to do something commercial. So I tried to ridicule this James Bond attitude that was prevalent at that time. The making of the first film ‘Diamond 33’ was enjoyable for me, but after that I did not want to go back to that though I had lot of offers to do the same. Fortunately, the Ministry of Culture helped me because at that time they were looking at serious documentary- like stuff and thus ‘The Cow’ happened,” says Mehrjui.

But ‘The Cow’, which brought realism to Iranian cinema, did not find favour with the government until the Islamic Revolution happened.

“During the revolution, they burned down all the great cinemas because these theatres were showing commercial cinema from America. During that time, Ayatollah Khomeini saw this film on television with his family. The next day he gave a speech saying that they are not against art or cinema. That, they are only against corrupted cinema. This film, oddly enough, is the only film that did not have a problem with the censors for women not wearing the hijab.”

‘The Cow’ set off the Iranian new wave, with Majidi, Makhmalbaff and others following in his footsteps. But he maintains that he had never anticipated that film to turn out to be so important.

“So many of my films had to undergo censorship after the revolution. Some were held up for years. They even lost the print of one of my films”

In later years, he focussed on making documentaries too, with a classic one on the blood donation mafia, which came as an extension of his film ‘The Cycle’.

“Right now, I am working on a Sam Shepherd play,” he signs off. A birthday cake was waiting for him in Tagore theatre.

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