Saturday, September 01, 2007

The Other Farrukhzad

Some fourteen years after the untimely dead of the famous Iranian poet Forugh Farrukhzad, the country still passionately keeps her memory alive. Few books written by Iranian or foreign writers which do not refer to her as an Iranian icon. Younger poets and the young generation keep her in mind by using the images she pioneered, growing their hands in gardens, wearing twin cherries as earrings, and so on. While we remember her with all our hearts, we have almost forgotten another Farrukhzad who emerged in the Iranian artistic arena for a very short while, though he had a stunning effect on our modern culture.

Fereydoun Farrukhzad was Forough Farrukhzad's younger brother. He studied in Germany and returned to Iran few years after his sister’s death, appearing on television as a showman of a weekly program called The Silver Carnation. The whole concept of the show was very new to Iranian audience, since similar programs from foreign countries would never be broadcast in Iran.

It is said that he was given time on television out of respect for the relationship with one of the directors of Iranian Television to his sister. However, he very soon became more popular by his own merits. I did not see the first show, though I remember that the next day there was nothing more important to talk about at work than Farrukhzad. Had the prime minister been assassinated there would not have been more discussion.

Very soon Iran divided into two camps, for and against Farrukhzad. However, the division was rather chaotic. Unlike similar cases, it was not divided by gender or generation or class. What made it more difficult to classify his fan base was the fact that many people found it difficult to admit liking him. Even those who declared that they did not like him would never miss his show.

It took me quite a while to see his show due to my schedule, but I finally managed to watch him. That night a few of our friends, who were soccer players, would be on his show as guests. He asked one of them, the captain of the famous Shaheen team, to tell the most memorable event of his life. The guy very shyly said that was the day he met the Shah. “Well,” he asked, “Could you tell us your next most memorable event?” “The day I met the Crown Prince,” he replied. Farrukhzad laughed his beautiful childish laugh and said, “Come on, we all feel proud and excited to meet a celebrity and see leaders and heads of state, but it has nothing to do with our lives. These are not part of our lives and are hardly personal. There are many events happening in our lives that we never forget, like our wedding night, like our first kiss, like the birth of our children, like falling in love.” I very vividly recall the man’s face, the despair in his eyes, the nervousness in his face and hands. He was sweating, turning right and left and I think he was praying for a miracle to cut the electrical cord and end the program. He was so anxious to escape from the show and run away to the soccer court and kick the ball to relieve himself from all the nervous anxiety he was suffering. I do not remember if he finally told him of any memorable event in his life, but I do recall how deadly the question was to him, and how he preferred to do whatever in his power as not to answer the question.

Indeed, it was highly unusual in those days in Iran for anybody to talk about what was considered personal and private. It was very uncomfortable to talk about our feelings, our likes and dislikes, in addition to the political pressure placed on celebrities such as actors, actresses and athletes not to rise above what was supposed to be the most important person in the country, the Shadow of God, the monarch.

It is to his credit that Farrukhzad broke that taboo. He asked that question from every single guest again and again. I’m not sure if he received any answer, but eventually the question lost its horror. A few nights ago when I watched his later shows on Youtube, which I had never seen, I notices how easily his guests became accustomed talk and laugh on screen without being worried that the monarch was watching.

Part of the reason I like Farrukhzad was my mother, may she rest in peace. She was in her fifties, a tribal women, semi-religious, a loving mother and a completely devoted wife to my father. Like many Iranian mothers, she had no life but her family. But there were two nights that we had to struggle to get her attention: if there was any play on TV and on Farrukhzad nights. She loved him (my Iranian reader may not believe me) just for his dancing. He danced while singing in a very rhythmic and humorous way. In spite of what she said, I thought she liked him for his cheerful, gentle, and kind disposition resembled one of my brothers whom my mother adored.

With him something happened in Iranian pop culture. For the first time a man appeared who was exclusively appealed to women and was loved by them. He had the reputation of being gay, though he was married and had a son. That might have helped his popularity among the women, being safe and also touching a paradigm border. I do not think it was only my mother who loved him for his dancing and gentleness, I think other women saw in him a delicate child-son as well. But above all he became an image, all unreal, fantastic, like no one else, not a man and not a woman, something just like himself that men did not like and so left him alone for the women to love.

His fans were not limited to women. He was very popular among children and young teenagers as well. He had a talent to relate to ordinary people of any class so easily through the simple lyrics of his songs. Once in the streets of south Tehran, young kids recognized him and gathered around him and one of them screamed and called the attention of others and said, “Hey everybody, he is the one who if the moon came down from the sky and knocked on his door, he wouldn’t open it because he was busy with his guest!” That was a line taken from one of his popular songs which, like all his songs, was saturated with his character and his life. In spite of his well-groomed appearance, his tailored black ties and ruffled shirts, and his trimmed Omar Sharif mustache, and in spite of his sometimes off-color remarks on some neighboring countries, in spite of his carelessness, bordering on arrogance, towards politically correctness and his lack of concern for appearing khalqi (common, popular), he was truly a man of the people.

He invited actors and actresses and singers to his show. Most of them were young and, as a result, were generally better-educated than the older generation of their profession. He would make a point of bringing up the subject of their education even if it was at a simple professional school, like flower arranging or decorating. He would always introduce them by saying “X or Y, artist, beautiful and educated.” This become like his trademark. Though we all made fun of him calling someone educated for only attending six months’ classes somewhere or other, even at that time we thought he was taking the early steps of change in a traditional society which was looking differently at women pop singer or movie actress.

I liked him, though I watched him only a few times, for all the happiness he brought once a week to the people. His laughter was his best feature, and his memory is always mingled with joy, though I heard he was not a happy person.

A few nights ago, a friend and I stumbled upon various clips of his show on Youtube. The old ones from Iran were indeed very nostalgic, but the later ones in England were very daring.

He was murdered in Germany in his apartment in the same fashion as Shapur Bakhtiar and Daryoush and Parvaneh Forouhar were murdered, more likely by the same group of people and for the same reasons. Years to come, we might remember him differently.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Mirza'Agha Asgari ( Mani) has published a book on Fariedon Farokhzad. Probably it's the only one ever written, and it's very sympathetic to his legacy, and very critical of the Iranian intellectuals, and artists that have not celebrated his acheivements. Check it out!