Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Prince Ebtehaj

Prince Ehtejab, by Bahman Farmanara

A film review

I saw an old Iranian movie in the Walter Reade Theater in New York’s Lincoln Center. It was based on an Iranian novel written by the celebrated writer Houshang Golshiri. The story is based on a fictitious character, Prince Khosrow Ehtejab, the last in the princely line of a dynasty which ruled Iran for a little over a century, before it was toppled by the Reza Shah Pahlavi I in 1921. Prince Ehtejab had been eye-witness to the latter part that dynasty’s history. He recalls his childhood memories of the ruthless way his grandfather ruled and how his own father bravely stood up to him, resigned, and withdrew from his service. Although he never gets the opportunity to rule, he is raised to be a prince. He recalls the tyranny under his grandfather. He recalls the brutal murder, unjustified punishments, illegal seizures, the keeping of men and women in captivity for nothing, the brutal condition of women, the cruel life of the harem, and the deprivation its inmantes suffer. However, there are things that he does not know. There are two people who feed him the past that he is unaware of. His beautiful, educated, well-read wife, Fakhr-ol-Nessa (Pride of Women) and his family carriage driver, Morad, who served three generations of this dynasty and was crippled in an accident while driving him. Fakhr-ol-Nessa tells him all she has read in the memoir of their ancestors, an almost entirely brutal history. Morad tells him all the events he witnessed with horror.

I have read the book almost thirty-five years ago, when I was obliged to like it, willy-nilly and whatever it actually meant. We were of the generation in which “liking” and “disliking” had nothing to do with our preferences. It was a badge of belonging to the “intellectuals”—or else. And of course I like it, and of course I liked the similar book “Blind Owl,” and of course I liked Fellini, and Sartre, and of course I like them because I should. I was becoming an intellectual.

I left the theater quite depressed. I was more worried about what the American audience would make of all this brutality and what message they would now file in their filing cabinet of Iran which was already bulging with misinformation. When I occasionally came across this information, I did not know whether to cry or laugh. And now this movie!

Anyhow, the movie was an excellent adaptation of the novel and stayed very faithful to the text. The acting was superb; it was a pleasure to see Jamshid Mashayekhi, who rendered the prince’s personality masterfully, and the younger Khorvash, to whom we theatre lovers are in debt as a pioneer woman in the field. (She played Fakhri, the personal maid to Fakhr-ol-Nessa.)

When leaving the theater, I told a friend “Did we really need this?” I walked into the street going to get the subway to go back to Brooklyn to prepare dinner; a few friends were coming from DC. Still quite depresses, I drifted into Fairway with the hope that the sight of tomatoes and peppers and basil would cheer me up a bit. “Don’t worry what these American will make of it, it is just a fiction,” I told to myself. That did not work either.

A lump in my throat, I came home. My husband asked how the movie was, and I gave him the report. I told him that I was glad that he did not come with me since it was too depressing. He had not read the book, so I told him the summary of the story. I then told him that by the time Golshiri wrote the book, Qajar dynasty was already a forgotten story and it is now totally irrelevant to us. Oh, yes “irrelevant!” That was the word in my throat. It pushed very hard. Alas, painful as it is, the story is still relevant. Relevant here, relevant there in Iran, relevant everywhere imaginable. That is why it was depressing and painful. Though, a brutal dynasty ended and the last prince in the line went to the depths of dead history, a new one was born, only with modern equipment and modern means to rule and govern and suppress all the more brutality, with more sophisticated weapons, including the chemical and nuclear. My husband came to the defense of the Qajar dynasty (he knows a few scholar from that family) and also in defense of the present situation which is not as bad. I granted him both, however I had to remind him of few cases of brutality of unfaithful husbands toward their wives (American), of existing polygamy (not just among the Mormans!), of the uncontrolled power that employers have over their employees, of the legal system which is in full support of the wrongdoers, and I let it go at that. He knew I would jump all over White House and two incomplete wars which turned the region into a bloodbath, and now with the threat of another war over Iran, the number of murders and the casualties in last five years in Afghanistan and Iraq, and also the crimes which were committed by Iraqis before the current wars using the chemical weapon given to Saddam by the Americans. And this is only small part of the brutality of which the American Dynasty was the architect.

The door bell rang, our friends came, a Pakistani couple. She is a journalist and had come back recently from Afghanistan with a magnificent report confirming that Karzai is not even the mayor of all Kabul, he is just barely in charge of his palace and its vicinity, that the Taliban are about, as for Al Qaeda, you bet! And the burka and poverty and war and fighting and chaos are all over the place. She even received a text-messaged death threat! What happened to the freedom and democracy send to them by George Bush? “It is on the way!” she said with a sad laugh.

“Where will her article on the visit get published?” I asked. “Well I’m looking around, but the newspaper editors do not have time to read it and they pass it to each other.” The report was only 15 pages double space. One can read it in fifteen minutes.

I felt bad for my husband. He himself is suffering from the injustices done in academia and that unbridled, incontrollabled abuse of power that is increasing every day. On top of everything, he has to put up with me and my readings of all these obscure events and their interconnections. I felt bad for him, he has to take all the criticism for all American’s wrong doings.

But getting back to Prince Ehtejab. It was a great movie, but I did not like it and I did not like the book either. Do we really need it? I can repeat the same comment again and again. Golshiri should know that we were emerging people, we wanted to change, we wanted to make a new world, yes, we were idealists. I do not like that realism of his. I did not like that life empty of love and compassion. I never understood why Prince Ehtejab should not have had the opportunity to improve himself. Should he not have given him a chance to depart from his ancestors’ history? Should he not have given him a chance to be a better person? Was it not cruel to make him doomed for no good reason? Golshiri can call it anything he wants, I just say I do not like the world which is doomed to be Evil. Even if the whole world is populated by Prince Ehatejab’s grandfathers I still recall many who were not like him. I wanted to hear the story of those that were good , those who changed for better, those who opened the windows and let the light in, those who could drag us into the street to demand goodness. I do not want the story about those who send us right to the sleeping pills bottles. I’m just talking about my preference.

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