Iran Continues to Ban Actors Who Were Famous Before the Revolution

Behrouz Vossoughi. Source: KAYHAN LONDON

By Azadeh Karimi 

The chairman of the Fajr International Film Festival (FIFF) has turned down Mohsen Amiryoussefi’s 2013 feature-length film “Lovely Trash–Original” (Ashghal-Haye Doost DashtaniAsli), starring veteran actor Behrouz Vossoughi (1938-), the Tehran-based Cinema-Cinema news site has reported, citing a tweet by Mohammad Tajik a culture reporter.

“The news of Behrouz Vossoughi’s role in the restored [Digital Cinema Package (DCP)] version of Mohsen Amiryoussefi’s 2013 film ‘Lovely Trash–Original’ has received much attention on Mohammad Tajik’s website,” Cinema-Cinema said. “The news has allegedly scared the chairman of the Fajr Film Festival so much that he has refused to accept the film. Behrouz Vossoughi was reportedly in the original version of the film in 2013.”

Mr. Amiryoussefi initially released the film in 2013 under the title “Lovely Trash” (Ashghal-Haye Doost Dashtani), which did not feature Mr. Vossoughi. For various reasons, the film was not distributed until 2019. Recently, Amiryoussefi inserted segments he had filmed with Vossoughi in the U.S. and released the new version under the revised title, “Lovely Trash: Original.”

The revelation has once again highlighted the state censorship of artists in Iran, and specifically the ban on actors and performers who gained prominence before the revolution.

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In the last 40 years, Iranian state media have tried to diminish the importance and cultural contribution of veteran actors to Iranian cinema before the revolution. The hardline Tehran-based Kayhan newspaper has attacked many veteran artists, including Vossoughi and Iranian diva Googoosh (1950-), accusing them of being “morally corrupt.” The Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB) and most conservative newspapers’ wholesale condemnation of the pre-revolution art and culture stem from a deep-seated hatred of all things related to the Pahlavi era.

The authorities have always denied banning artists from performing as long as their creative work adhered to state-sanctioned moral codes.

Following the death of the renowned Iranian actor Naser Malak Motiei (1930-2018) in May 2018, the central council of the Director Guild of Iran sent a letter to the Minister of Culture and Islamic Guidance Abbas Salehi, urging him to lift the ban on actors who had worked in films, TV and theater before the revolution.

“The death of Mr. Naser Malak Motiei, a prominent Iranian actor, has saddened everyone in the Iranian film industry,” the letter said. “Performers and audiences alike are deeply affected by this loss. We feel great sorrow and pain, knowing that his broken heart never healed. Was this old icon of the Iranian cinema treated justly?”

“As the proud representative of Iranian cinema, we, the members of the central council of the Director Guild of Iran, urge you to end the ban on veteran artists who worked before the revolution,” the letter added. “Correcting this wrong will heal the wounds inflicted on the pioneers of performing arts in the country and will seal your noble legacy.”

In response, Mohammad Mehdi Heidarian, the former director of Iranian Organization of Cinema and Audiovisual Affairs, sent a letter to his boss Minister Abbas Salehi, on June 3, 2018, reassuring him that there were no bans on actors, who had been active before the 1979 Islamic Revolution, from working in films, TV, and theater.

“There is no ban on any performer who worked before the revolution,” Mr. Heidarian said in the confidential memo which is now in the public domain. “It is astonishing that the Director Guild of Iran, which has always enjoyed the works of actors and performers, should level such an unfounded accusation against the Islamic Revolution.”

“The Islamic Revolution prevented Iranian art from falling victim to a culture of corruption,” Heidarian argued. “The same actors and artists who were traveling down a morally perilous road changed course and returned to a righteous path from the first day of the revolution.”

Heidarian explained: “The long and illustrious careers of renowned Iranian actors including [Ezzatollah] Entezami [1924-2018], [Jamshid] Mashayekhi [1934-2019], [Mohammad-Ai] Keshavarz [1930-], [Ali] Nasirian [1935-] and hundreds other performers in the film industry are a testament to this.”

“Admittedly, in the early days of the revolution, some limitations were imposed on several prominent actors whose work did not meet ethical and moral standards,” Heidarian added. “However, those restrictions were gradually lifted through the years as a new generation of young and talented performers began to represent the true values of the Islamic Republic. There is no ban on any actor who worked before the revolution.”

Naser Malak Motiei and other veteran actors who helped shape the golden era of Iranian cinema before the Islamic Revolution, were banned from pursuing their careers. Behrouz Vossoughi and others who left Iran continued to work in exile.

Shahab Hosseini, a young Iranian film and TV actor who has been living in Canada for the past four years, posted a message on his Instagram page in which he said: “I sincerely hope the authorities lift the ban on Behrouz Vossoughi. As I got to know him, I realized what an extraordinary human being he is. I urge the officials to expedite the release of Mohsen Amiryoussefi’s ‘Lovely Trash–Original,’ which is an essential work of art.”

In an interview with the Tehran-based Khabar Online news site on December 19, 2019, veteran Iranian director Saeed Motalebi (1942-) reminisced about the golden age of Iranian cinema in the 1960s and 70s.

“I had immense respect for Naser Malak Motiei and Mohammad Ali Fardin (1931-2000) whose honesty and integrity as true artists and human beings were self-evident in every role they played in movies,” Mr. Motalebi said. “However, it wasn’t only the state that sidelined these artists after the revolution. They were forced out by others who wanted to be in the film industry. Cinema has a special attraction to those who look at the industry from outside. They believe it is their ticket to fame, fortune, and glamorous life. They wanted to make a name for themselves. Fame is useless.”

“Naser Malek Motiei ended up selling confectionary out of his garage. Fardin also opened a sweet shop. Iraj Ghaderi [director, actor, 1934-2012] sold rice samples out of his office,” Motalebi noted. “Whenever I visited Fardin, I would wait until he wasn’t serving a customer so as not to embarrass him.”

“I hold all those people who took over the industry responsible for what happened to Fardin and others. Their actions were criminal. They and others in power confined Fardin to his house where he spent the rest of his life, ultimately dying from a broken heart,” Motalebi added. “I could work under an assumed name which gave me some satisfaction. However, Fardin and Ghaderi could not get any work. They suffered emotional torture and died from broken hearts. We live in a Guantanamo-like climate where death comes slowly. They experienced the same fate.”

[Translated from Persian by Fardine Hamidi]