By Utpal Borpujari
Panaji: Many have seen shades of real life characters in his satirical “The President”, which had opened the 45th International Film Festival of India (IFFI), but legendary Iranian filmmaker Mohsen Makhmalbaf says the film is not about any particular character but about the way the word “democracy” is facing threat in many parts of the world.
“It is my way of saying that democracy has to be imbibed, and cannot be gifted by bombing and attacking a country,” says Makhmalbaf, a retrospective of whose films was a major highlight of the just-concluded 45th IFFI.
“Syria, Egypt and Libya, all of them had revolutions but the results have not been really positive. That is why in The President, I have shown how one has to imbibe democracy and cannot get it gifted through bombing and attacking a country.
Democracy needs education and development,” says the director, who has been living outside Iran for many years now after his strongly-political films ruffled feathers of the Iranian ruling class.
As compared to Iran and many other countries, Makhmalbaf says, India has imbibed the values of democratic practices much better. “The diversity in culture, philosophy and languages in India is because of the kind of democracy being practiced here,” he says.
All films and books by Makhmalbaf, who was jailed as a 17-year-old for his political protests against the then Shah regime, are banned in Iran, and he was forced to leave Iran ten years ago. Since then he has made London his home but continued to make films with stories based in Iran.
“In prison I realised that our political problems have roots in culture. That’s why I started making films and writing books to change the minds of people. When I was young I used to follow Che Guevara’s ideals but in jail I learnt about Gandhi’s non-violent principles. Making political films is risky but there is no other way,” he says.
In his film “The President”, a despotic president of a fictitious country is shown to be forced to go into hiding as a common man with his grandson following a coup, which is when he finds how much people hate him. This brings a change in his mindset. Through satire, Makhmalbaf makes a strong comment about the situation in many countries of the world in this film.
“I watched my his first film when I was 22. Cinema’s impact on me was like a blind suddenly getting vision. That’s when I decided to use the power of this medium to serve the people,” he says. About the philosophy behind his latest film, he says, “Killing the dictator does not solve the problem as it kills individual but not the dictatorial tendencies. My film stresses that the need is to change the mindset of people.”
45th IFFI showcased this very journey of Makhmalbaf, screening films like “Daddy’s School”, “The Day I became a Woman”, “Kandahar”, “A Moment of Innocence”, “Salaam Cinema”, “Sex and Philosophy”, “The Silence” and “Time of Love”.
(Published in Eastern Chronicle, http://www.easternchronicle.net; 04-12-2014)