New York Times: Iran is bending its religious restrictions on television series in an effort to attract more of the countrys audience to state-run television. The New York Times
By NAZILA FATHI
Published: October 16, 2007
TEHRAN, Oct. 15 Iran is bending its religious restrictions on television series in an effort to attract more of the countrys audience to state-run television.
State TV, which had a monopoly on viewership until satellite channels began to draw more viewers beginning in the early 1990s, has been trying to win back its audience for several years. One result: a spate of mini-series that depict love stories between characters who are not necessarily pious, and that allow women to show more of their hair both of which have been considered un-Islamic.
Analysts say the new programs are part of the governments bid to use television as a more effective instrument to shape public opinion. Most series still have clear political messages, though they are conveyed with much more subtlety than in the past.
They say the government appears to have realized that political programs, such as those showing confessions extracted from democracy advocates in prison, have not achieved its goal of building domestic unity at a time when the country is under intense international pressure for its nuclear program.
They have learned that if they want their programs to be effective, they should send the message indirectly, said Abol-Hassan Mokhtabad, a journalist and news media expert. He added that it is very natural that the government would pursue its political goals through them, too.
One popular mini-series, called Zero Degree Turn, depicts the Iranian Embassy in Paris during World War II, when employees forged Iranian passports for European Jews to flee to Iran. The series is built around a love story between an Iranian-Palestinian man and a Jewish Frenchwoman he helps escape to Iran.
Scenes of terrified Jewish men, women and children being loaded into trucks by Nazis are arousing feelings of sympathy for Jews at a time when President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has denied the Holocaust.
But the series has a more subtle message: that there is a difference between Jews and Zionists. One Jewish character, the uncle of the Frenchwoman who escapes to Iran, is depicted as brutal and manipulative. He has ties to Israel.
State-run television hired a prominent director, Hassan Fatthi, who shot the scenes, many in Paris and Budapest, in lavish settings. Women appear without Irans obligatory head scarf and the ankle-length Islamic coat, in a nod to life in Europe in the 1940s.
Another series, The Forbidden Fruit, is about the platonic love between a religious married man in his 70s and a beautiful woman in her 20s. Although the series has angered many women in Iran for the way the man treats his wife, the love story has attracted a large audience.
Movies, too, have been permitted to cross political red lines. Several recent films produced by people with links to the government have mocked revolutionary and religious values.
A popular war comedy that came out this year called Those Expelled shows how people from different segments of society defended Iran during the 1980-1988 war with Iraq.
In the past, almost all war movies showed those who fought as chaste and religious.
The main character, Majid Suzuki, is a criminal who volunteers to fight in the war to prove to the woman he loves that he is a changed man.
Majid is rejected as an unworthy soldier by ardent revolutionaries who accuse him and his friends of being corrupt. In the end, Majid and his best friend are killed in a bloody scene where they fight Iraqi soldiers. A religious character, Hajji Saleh, survives by hiding behind him.
I loved it because it made fun of the people who are in power and showed their true face, like Hajji Saleh, said Reza Mohammad-panah, 25, a driver in Tehran. Hajji is a title for those who make the annual pilgrimage to Mecca.
At one point, Majids friend yells at the commander: What are you proud of? Your bushy beard? referring to the beard that has been a symbol of being an Islamic revolutionary. It is not the beard, it is your roots that counts, he adds.
Some Iranians say they believe that the movie received government backing because it could stir sentiment for war at a time when tensions over a possible conflict with the United States are rising. It was one of the rare films that was endorsed by the minister of culture and Islamic guidance, Hossein Saffar Harandi.
Despite criticism by hard-liners who said the movie made fun of revolutionary values, state-run television has promised to broadcast it.
It is difficult to gauge how effective the governments new strategy is, though the television mini-series have large audiences, and Those Expelled took in more than $270 million.
People usually have their own understanding of movies, said Ali Moalem, a director and film critic. Those Expelled wanted to show that war is cool and everyone can fight. But people watched it as a comedy and ignored that message.