Friday, June 27, 2008

Persepolis: the best way to criticise religion?

Persepolis. The ceremonial capital of the Persian empire, Pārsa in Persian which means "city of Persians". And Persepolis, the animated movie about the life of Marjane Satrapi, an Iranian lady who lived through the Islamic revolution in the late 70s in Iran which deposed the Shah, and threw Iran into a Shi'ite theocracy. I went to watch this movie with a couple of the guys (well, they're the only two left here from the school gang) last evening.

Mostly in black and white (in an era where animated colour pixels come alive in all forms), this is a simple, yet beautifully crafted film, which sends out the message of the oppression brought about by the mullahs of the Islamic religion (the Shia sect in this case). The movie goes on to show Marjane's life being brought up in a liberal, educated, cosmopolitan Iranian family during the regime of the Shah and the atrocities committed against communists by the Shah's secret police (with the aid of the American CIA) and later, the further persecution of innocents by the mullah brigade under the dictatorial, theocratic rule of Ayatollah Khomeini.

The movie shows the recent past history of Iran, and hopefully people go to watch it realising that this is not a fictional story created for laughs, but about what actually happened in Iran and it's descent into the dangerous theocracy it is now under Mahmud Ahmedinejad. It also shows how much we seem to have taken our democracy and freedom for granted, because the restrictions that crop up in the name of religion is mind boggling and numbing, tempered only by the satire that Marjane throws in to keep the smile on the faces of the audience.

A few subtle pointers were made about communism and Marxism, with one scene showing god and Karl Marx giving different pieces of advice to young Marjane. For those wondering why Marx entered the picture, that's because a lot of the Iranian youth who were opposed to the Shah took to Communism via Marxism. In fact, Marjane's uncle too had done the same, and since Communists are avowedly atheists, they (the communists) weren't in favour with the religious nuts who came into power, and many were summarily executed after the Shah's ouster.

Restrictions from religion should not be mandatory, but optional. The religious doctrines should not be viewed as rules, but as guidelines. What's the difference, some peasant minded person may ask. For one, a rule is not something that you are allowed to break, and if you do, there's a punishment attached to it. Guidelines, on the other hand, need not be strictly adhered to as it's optional to choose to follow it or not. Because at the end of the day, whoever thought up of the religious rules for how a person should lead his or her life, would have done so based on his opinion of what is good for a person and what isn't. Marjane effectively shows the hypocrisy in Islam during class: when a senior religious figure addresses the university students, he chides the women about the western trousers they wear and how it tempts men into doing bad things, and how their head scarfs need to be tied lower to cover more of their head, Marjane starts by telling him that as an art student, she has to move about in class and a long head scarf and gown wouldn't allow for free movement, and the western trousers allow them to walk about freely with tripping over. While their clothes may seem to 'tempt' men, what about the other way around: why are men allowed to wear nut-huggers when that could clearly turn a girl on? But the clincher was her question about what god really cares about: is it the fashion sense of the woman? The movie shows how the youth were conscripted into the army to fight Iraq when Saddam decided to invade Iran (with American blessings, of course), but promising them a wonderful afterlife in paradise in the company of 72 virgins (which, by the way, is a very suspicious number-why 72?). That, to me, is the lowest any religion can get: promising sex with virgins is the just downright cheap and low. And this also begs the question: what about women martyrs? Do they get to spend time in paradise in the company of 72 virgin men?

Oh, and did I forget to mention that this isn't an animated movie for children? No siree, kids wouldn't follow a thing unless they're aware of a little bit of history. But on the other hand, when I went to watch the movie, a large number of adults too, sadly, did not know even a little bit of the history of Iran and so (again, sadly), watched the movie as if it was a purely fictional work and not an autobiographical piece. Nonetheless, it's a great movie, and a fantastic way to show how religious zealots can get away with even murder in the name of religion. However, the taste of the pudding is in the eating and so whether this method of how criticism works, without going hammer and tongs at the opposition, remains to be seen.

And after the movie, we caught dinner at Transit (only place open at Forum) and first had some 99% vegetarian ice cream (which we thought was a rip off: 80 bucks for a cup smaller than the palm of my hand). We then went to the Rajdhani counter and ordered a plate of dahi vada (3 in a plate, so it was perfect) and shared a thali with, well, a lot of things in it. Good movie, good food, good conversation; awesome combo to have before you hit the sack.

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