The conference room door opens unexpectedly and Majid Majidi walks out. Not hurriedly but with calm, easy steps. Something had gone wrong in an interview, some guess. Perhaps the famous Iranian director didn’t like a question, whispered one. A team goes after him in the lobby of Hotel Taj in Thiruvananthapuram and he comes back, looking as cool as ever, waiting for a question.
Majidi says he is tired watching movies at the ongoing International Film Festival of Kerala 2018. He is jury head of competition films and there are 14 of them. He likes watching them, he likes how the festival is organised, he says. But so far he has not been able to spot the crowd that the IFFK is known for, he says. “I have been watching movies with the jury and so not seeing the crowd. I’d like to go to theatres and watch movies with the crowd,” the director says.
Majidi’s film Muhammad: The Messenger of God, about the childhood of Prophet Mohammed, is also part of the festival. A movie that landed Majidi in a lot of trouble, but one that brought him a strong Indian connection through musician AR Rahman. Rahman composed for that and for his new one, Beyond the Clouds, which was shot in India. Quite a lot has already been said about the much-adored Iranian filmmaker’s Indian movie – the challenges he’s had here, the similarities between the two countries. “Cinema is cinema, wherever you make it,” is all he has to say about it now.
Majidi found actors from this country. He found Rahman. Rahman’s music, he has known before. He mentions Slumdog Millionaire, the movie that won the musician two Oscars 10 years ago. “And he is a Muslim, so he would be more familiar…” the sentence is left incomplete by the interpreter, but you can guess it is about the Muhammad: The Messenger of God. Rahman had, in fact, faced a fatwa by an Indian Muslim group for working in the controversial film. What’s ironic is that the film that faced opposition from Arab countries comes from a man who is such a strong believer that he had once withdrawn a film from a Danish film festival, protesting a newspaper in Denmark publishing cartoons satirising Prophet Muhammad.
Still from Muhammad: The Messenger of God
Many had a problem with the film for it goes against the Islamic way of not depicting an image of God. Majidi had reportedly respected this belief and never showed Prophet Muhammed’s face in the film. He doesn’t want to use the word religion but humanity. “God has given us so many senses. It is not good to call it religion. Everybody has it,” he says.
This is perhaps the first time he landed in any sort of trouble for his film. Unlike quite a few of his contemporaries who face long bans or exiles for making the films they do. Jafar Panahi, for example, who faces a 20-year ban. Or Bahman Farmanara, who is also part of the IFFK, and couldn’t at one point leave the country because of a film he made.
The difference is, Majidi stays clear of politics in his movies. “Politics is like the newspaper. You cannot put yesterday’s news out today,” is his vague answer. He is not against politics, no, he makes that clear. Women too are represented in his films “according to our culture”, he says, while asserting there are “no such issues in women working in films”. Even there, he stays clear of the politics of wearing the veil, or touching a strange man playing a son or a husband in films.
Majidi’s movies are more personal. Children of Heaven, that everyone so lovingly remembers 20 years after its making, is a simple tale of a brother and sister and a pair of shoes. Colour of Paradise, another acclaimed movie, is about a blind boy and a father who’s ashamed of him. Curious, we ask Majidi about his own childhood. We don’t get the information we seek. Majidi’s interpreter tells us about the director beginning to act in his childhood, mostly in theatre, and moving on to cinema after that.
In another interview, much before, Majidi had spoken of not telling his dad about acting, lying to him and sneaking around him. He had felt bad when his father suddenly passed away, believing his lies. The movie Children of Heaven, he says now, is a dedication to all fathers.