Iran’s Mojaz Culture

Pars Arts usually focuses on culture and media that is mahdood (forbidden) in Iran. But Iran has no shortage of mojaz (permitted) culture – music, films and television approved by the regime. While it is true that the many Iranian families have satellite TV beaming in Voice of America and Tapesh, there is no shortage of native media grabbing the attention of Iranians.

Earlier this summer, the most popular program on Iranian television was undoubtedly Shabeh Shisheyi (“Glass Night”), a talk show hosted by Reza Rashidpour. The program spanned forty nights and featured interviews with famous Iranians, including soccer player and Team Melli captain Ali Daei (YouTube clip), esteemed Iranian filmmaker Ebrahim Hatamikia (YouTube clip) and even the conservative activist and war veteran Masoud Dehnamaki (YouTube clip), who is director of the popular 2007 film Ekhrajiha (more on the film below). The show’s finale featured Iranian heartthrob Mohammad Reza Golzar, the star of one of the highest grossing films in Iranian cinema, Atash Bas. That finale garnered over a million viewers and nearly four hundred thousand votes in that night’s Shabeh Shisheyi poll. You can watch it here:

The clip below, featuring Iranian actor Hamed Komeili, demonstrates why Shabeh Shisheyi was the talk of Iran and why Rashidpour as a host was so novel:

Not usually one to flatter his guests, he had a rather acidic tongue that often put his subjects on the spot. (In this clip, he asks TV actor Hamed Komeili if he believes he would get roles if he wasn’t attractive.)

Television also featured countless serial shows, most similar to telenovelas or soap operas. Story lines often dealt with social taboos such as drug use, addiction, and spousal abuse. One anomalous serial was Madar Sefr Darejeh, an extremely popular show and a groundbreaking affair in Iranian television. Filmed in Budapest and Paris as well as Iran, and featuring French and Hungarian actors alongside Iranians, the series is set during the Second World War and revolves around the complicated and difficult decisions faced by Iranians living in France, some of whom collaborate with the Resistance, and others who follow Reza Shah and support the Nazis. It is interesting to note that the series – broadcast on Iranian state television – makes no secret of the dangers facing the Jewish population. One of the main characters of Madar Sefr Darejeh is Sara, a young Jewish student who flees occupied France for Iran using passports forged by her Iranian friend. [If anyone can find embeddable clips of this show online, please let us know and we'll update this post to include them.]

The biggest Iranian film of 2007 is undoubtedly Ekhrajiha (“The Outcasts”), the directorial debut of conservative journalist and activist Masoud Dehnamaki. Set in 1988, its plot revolves around Majid, a thug from Southern Tehran who decides to join the Basij (voluntary militia) on the Iran-Iraq war-front in order to impress a local girl and her pious father. Majid takes along his friends and the plot follows this group of misfit thieves and criminals in training camp and on the war front. Released in March 2007, Ekhrajiha is the highest-grossing film in Iranian history, although it was criticized by some who felt that it treated the Iran-Iraq war and the subject of martyrdom too lightly. Personally, I felt that although the film has comedic moments, it certainly wove the weight of war in among those jokes. Here’s the trailer:

Ekhrajiha plays off a new stereotype in Iranian youth culture: the javad, a noun used to denote a crass, lower-class male. Similar to the American redneck or British chav stereotype, I heard “javad” mentioned by youth across Tehran, and jokes about javadi habits – from their dance moves to their affinity for motorbikes – popped up everywhere. In the tradition of blockbusters all around the world, the film also spawned its own trademark phrase: “Ey val,” chanted at the beginning of the film, was in the everyday vernacular of many of the youth I met in Tehran this summer. Ekhrajiha is playing now in selected theaters across North America, so check your local listings.

The International Center for Persian Studies

Fall term at the University of Tehran’s International Center for Persian Studies (ICPS) begins September 8th. Housed at the Dehkhoda Institute, the center offers Persian classes for everyone from complete novices to advanced speakers. Classes include general language courses, courses in history and classic and modern Iranian literature, as well as remedial classes in reading and handwriting. The general language courses are intensive: they include reading, writing, and oral components and assign a fair amount of work outside of the classroom. In addition to excellent Persian instruction, ICPS also boasts a diverse student population of both hyphenated Iranians and foreign students from all over the world.

Housed in a beautiful building on Tehran’s scenic Vali Asr Street (not on the University of Tehran campus in Southern Tehran), the center also features an extensive library, language lab and cafeteria. For those who don’t have a place to stay in Tehran, registering at ICPS allows you to procure residence in University of Tehran dorms. Also note that ICPS is very flexible at accommodating students, so if you’re not concerned about certification, faculty and staff will normally allow you to work in classes around your schedule. Visit the International Center for Persian Studies to see more details or send them an email at

Freedom Is Not Free

by Farnam Bidgoli

While protesters around the world gathered last Saturday against the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, rhetoric continues regarding a possible attack on Iran. On Wednesday, the UN Security Council will gather to debate tougher sanctions on Iran, including a ban on loans to the country. As President Ahmadinejad’s US visa was approved today, we’re hoping – perhaps naively – that his speech in New York on Wednesday will be a call for dialogue and not continued aggressive posturing.

As members of the Iranian diasporic community, regardless of political affiliation, now is the time to speak up to our political representatives in order to make our opinions about the possibility of an attack known. Freedom Is Not Free – a pro-Iranian political advocacy group based in Toronto, Canada – has initiated a democratic protest against an attack on Iran. The 10,000 Against War Campaign is a petition calling for the Canadian government to declare its opposition both to the possibility of an attack on Iran and to the aggressive posturing of the Islamic Republic of Iran.

The group, whose name comes from Iranian journalist Akbar Ganji’s Republican Manifesto II, is a non-partisan, non-ideological advocacy group that intends, says founding member Binesh Hassanpour, “to inform decision making bodies about the nuances of the Iranian political dynamic… Our sole concern is the promotion of Iranian interests vis-a-vis responsible foreign policy. That means we want a Canadian foreign policy towards Iran that is conducive to the domestic growth of democracy and human rights in Iran.”

To sign the 10,000 Against the War petition or find out more about the group, visit Freedom Is Not Free’s website.

Farnam Bidgoli is an undergraduate student at the University of Toronto, where she is pursuing a joint degree in Peace and Conflict Studies and International Relations, with language studies in French and Farsi, at the Trudeau Centre. She has written for The Toronto Globalist, Incite, and Namak.