July 9, 2012 By Huda Hafiz

Music played in the Tunnel

To put in a nutshell, Bahman Ghobadi’s ‘None Knows about Persian Cats’ (Kasi az gorbehaye Irani khabar nadareh) is about the search for two young musicians, Negar (Negar Shaghaghi) and Ashkan (Ashkan Koshhanejad) with the help of Nader to form an indie-rock band to perform abroad from among 312 bands in the same genre and 2500 pop groups that run in the underground of Iran. The film was inspired by real life in which the two artists succeeded in their mission. But the film’s climax is tragic and the director makes it known that secular culture has a tough time in Iran. Ghobadi says about his intention to make this movie:

“My original plan was to make a documentary. I didn’t do it because in the film world today distribution for independent documentaries is really bad, and I realized that the film itself was not as important to me as getting the voices of these kids out. I had seen some films made about the underground music world in Tehran and most of them were short documentaries about 30 or 40 minutes long. And I always wondered why they weren’t publicized more. Really, their only flaw was they were short documentaries.I knew this was my one and only chance to make a film about the underground music world in Iran, so it was important to me that I show you as much of it as I could, both of this subculture and of the real Tehran. The film became a medium for exposing the world to these musicians.”

Negar’s statement ten minutes after the film begins, ‘Here you can’t do everything. In this country you don’t have a chance’ is what the film is all about and tellingly it becomes a metaphor for what Ghobadi and Roxana Saberi, who wrote the script for the film, underwent/undergoes in the country. Gobbadi has been arrested for severely castigating the government for censorship. Roxana, Ghobadi’s fiancee(?) was also arrested after having been accused of spying, which she denied. That the arrests coincided with the rousing ovation that the film received internationally tells a lot about how effectively visual images can get intense political messages across.

Though one can question reported speeches carried by the western media regarding whatever happens in Iran owing to geopolitical reasons, accounts by the people in Iran attest to the fact that the regime(s) in Iran is/are indifferent to the secular stream of public consciousness. In fact, there is a vibrant Persian culture nourished by aeons-old mystical/religious consciousness which can sabotage the Western secularism and its political encroachment. Performers including Homayoun Shajarian or the bands like Niyaz which conisists of DJ programmer/producer and remixer Carmen Rizzo, vocalist and hammered dulcimer player Azam Ali are the best examples of a musical culture which transmits the Persian values enshrined in the narratives of Rumi and Saedi. But the governments are trying to stifle the western stream and its revolutionary potential which might hamper all traditions of music in the long run.

A joke cracked by Nader (Hamed Behdad) to a doctor who asked the team to get their blood tested when they took a sick friend of theirs to the hospital is important in this respect. Nader says: We play together, and don’t live together. And is not playing together a metaphor for living together.  Terry Eagleton makes it a point in his book ‘Meaning of life: An Introduction’:

“Take, as an image of the good life, a jazz group. A jazz group which is improvising obviously differs from a symphony orchestra, since to a large extent each member is free to express herself as she likes. But she does so with a receptive sensitivity to the self-expressive performances of the other musicians. The complex harmony they fashion comes not from playing from a collective score, but from the free musical expression of each member acting as the basis for the free expression of the others.  As each player grows more musically eloquent, the others draw inspiration from this and are spurred to greater heights. There is no conflict here between freedom and the ‘good of the whole’, yet the image is the reverse of totalitarian. Though each performer contributes to ‘the greater good of the whole’, she does so not by some grim-lipped self-sacrifice but simply by expressing herself.  There is self-realization, but only through a loss of self in the music as a whole. There is achievement, but it is not a question of self-aggrandizing success. Instead, the achievement – the music itself – acts as a medium of relationship among the performers. There is pleasure to be reaped from this artistry, and – since there is a free fulfilment or realization of powers – there is also happiness in the sense of flourishing. Because this flourishing is reciprocal, we can even speak, remotely and analogically, of a kind of love. One could do worse, surely, than propose such a situation as the meaning of life – both in the sense that it is what makes life meaningful, and – more controversially – in the sense that when we act in this way, we realize our natures at their finest.”

And what malicious censorship does is to dispose life of its meaning.

Posted in: Culture, music