About Elly actress Golshifteh Farahani Interview

She is best known in India for her role in Asghar Farhadi’s intriguing psychological drama About Elly (2009). She played an Afghan woman guarding her paralysed, old husband in Atiq Rahimi’s war drama The Patience Stone (2012) and acted alongside Isabella Rossellini and Mathieu Amalric in Marjane Satrapi’s Chicken With Plums (2012). A YouTube video of her playing the hang drum went viral with millions of hits.

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Born in a family of theatre artistes, actors, and writers, 32-year-old France-based Iranian actress Golshifteh Farahani began by training to be a musician. At the age of 14, a role in legendary director Dariush Mehrjui’s The Pear Tree (1998) made her fall in love with acting. From there, she grew to become one of Iran’s top heroines. Golshifteh is all fire within a petite, jovial, energetic frame. Banished from her country for working in a ‘Western’ film, Ridley Scott’s Body of Lies (2008) with Leonardo DiCaprio, she has been courting many a controversy since — for exposing one of her breasts for a French promotional video for the Cesars, the French version of the Oscars; and doing a nude photo shoot for the French magazine, Egoiste. She now lives in exile in Paris. Golshifteh has been in Jaisalmer for a month and a half, just after wrapping up Jim Jarmusch’s new film Paterson, to shoot for a film with Irrfan Khan and Waheeda Rehman, Anup Singh’s The Song of Scorpions. She is scheduled to go to Goa in a couple of weeks to meet her parents. “I always meet them abroad since I left my country seven years ago,” she says. In an exclusive talk with The Hindu, the beautiful, intelligent and politically aware actorspeaks about her music, her spirit of defiance, about living in exile, and how the pain and longing for home has helped her grow as an artiste. Excerpts:

As an actor and a musician, how do you see the two art forms come together?
Music is a sense of rhythm, timing and texture. Music for me is like the base of most of the art forms. Most of the movies that come to me have characters that are somehow related to music. In The Song of Scorpions, I am singing some songs, playing this instrument. It’s like music is following me like a shadow even in movies. I wonder if it’s a sign from the universe.

As an artiste, you are well known for your spirit of defiance. Were you always like that, even as a child?
I was very naughty, but thoughtful. The rebellion against injustices, against violence against women, was always there in me. When I was a teenager, I used to shave my hair to be able to walk on the streets without the veil. I didn’t want to give in to the obligation of wearing it. In Sufism, there is this saying about the butterfly that goes into the flame. I am fearless like that and a bit stupid at times. Whatever rock is there in front of me, I just jump [over it] without thinking about how high it is, what it is like down there. I don’t think, I just jump, and when I am in the air, I think, ‘now, how am I going to land?’ Most people don’t do that. They calculate; they protect themselves. My intuitions somehow guide me. Most of the times, I get into trouble. But something positive comes out of it eventually.

How was tonsuring taken by the Iranian society?
Well, they didn’t get to know. I transformed into a boy; they thought I was a boy. They shaved my hair when I was 14 for the Mehrjui film, and I shaved it again when I was 16, which meant a lot coming from a teenager in Iran. I had a name for myself: Ameer. Every day I went to school with the scarf, came back and changed into a boy, and went out on the streets to play basketball and live like a boy. My whole life for me was this game. It was dangerous. Had they caught me, it would have been truly serious. My parents were really worried but they couldn’t control me. [The] funny thing is the one big reason I gave was that I wanted to ride a bicycle without getting whistled or stared at. I wanted to become invisible. I wanted to be looked at as a human being rather than as an object of desire.

But it was a denial of your sexuality…
At that time I did have boyfriends, so I was partly a girl. But the only way in Iran to become free was to get more and more masculinised. When I left Iran and moved to Paris, I realised I didn’t need to be rough like a man to be free. I could be a woman with all the qualities of a woman and be free at the same time.

How did the ban on you in Iran come to play?
I had gone through seven months of confiscations and interrogations after working in Body of Lies. I was not allowed to leave the country and they didn’t let me go to London to do Prince of Persia. When I left Iran eventually, I knew that the bridges had been destroyed. They told me they needed to see Body of Lies to end my trial. They thought it was something against them, that the film was some kind of a plan hatched by the CIA [which, incidentally, overthrew Iran’s last freely elected government in 1953]. I had been through so much trauma that when Body of Lies came out, even the President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, told my father to tell me to come back, but I couldn’t trust him any more. After that one incident, anything I did as a woman was perceived to be anti-Iranian, whatever I was doing became political. Not just the French video for the Cesars, before that it was a concert. The video became a big thing. Some years after that, the photos I did for Egoiste became big. I was angry; I am not any more. I was questioning: what is the problem men have with this female body? Why the tortures, the violence against women? I realised that if I wanted to live, I couldn’t keep my feet between two camels. I had to choose one camel and ride it.

You haven’t set foot in Iran since then?
Now it has been seven years since I left. I knew I won’t be able to go back. My interrogator in the intelligence service told me, “We don’t want any artistes in Iran”. They told me this very seriously. For me, the path that I was taking was more important than all that. I was opening up something not just for myself but for a whole new generation in Iran. After me, there have been some other actresses coming out and speaking up. This veil thing, the breast thing, it sparked off something in the region.

Iran wants to be a country without artistes? What is a country without artistes?
Art in Iran is like this tree that is hundreds of years old. The idiot power freaks are trying to destroy this tree, but it is still going strong. Hundreds of years of dictatorship and pressure and religious dogmatism tried to kill it, but art has been like a flame in the hands of the artistes and the people. All these powers couldn’t manage to kill that flame because it lives in the hearts of the people. This tree is the root of the country. People won’t let it wither.

It is said that curbs can make creativity flow more forcefully in artistes.
Sometimes, but not always. If you look at Swedish, German, Russian, or Brazilian cinema now, they show that sometimes pressure can lead to creativity because there is no other choice. If you look at the Soviet Union, if you look at the Second World War, the amount of art that had been produced on it is incredible, especially when it comes to theatre. [Jerzy] Grotowski, [Konstantin] Stanislavsky, all these people were creating their best work when people and cities were burning just a few metres away.

But that’s not always so. In Iran, we had the most amazing directors even before the revolution. It’s not as though it’s a result of the formation of the Islamic Republic. This cinema existed before the revolution, may be it wasn’t found somehow. After the revolution, Iran became so closed that cinema became the only door into the country. Iranian cinema just blossomed with Abbas Kiarostami, Mohsen Makhmalbaf and more. But the fact is that Iran has been in the throes of a renaissance of arts, not just in cinema but also in music, theatre. People are so creative because art is a matter of survival; it’s the essential oxygen, water, especially for the young.

How does being in exile play out for you as an artiste and as an individual?
Exile is painful. It is something I cannot explain. As an artiste, you need something in your creative bank to understand different sensations, to be able to project them and play them convincingly on screen or stage. The exile added to this bank account of sensations and emotions I have. I can use this as an actor now. I lost my country, which is very painful. It’s like losing a child, you never get over it. But I have the whole world now. It is a big price to pay but I’d like to look at it as a cup that is half-full. All my inspiration is from this dream, from my longing for Iran. This pain has become who I am. This distance and longing leads to liberation in a way.

It exposed you to various cultures…
My agency jokes that there is no other actor with whom they travel as much as with me. India to NY, Morocco, Jordan. Somewhere in the beginning of my stint out of Iran I thought my face would be a barrier. But it became like a gift because I can be so many things. I can be an Indian as well as a Middle Eastern, a Spaniard as well as an American. I am very blessed in a way. I feel tremendous amount of gratitude.

But meeting your parents abroad must be a difficult way to be
Especially now when my parents are of a certain age. You miss seeing their hair turn grey. I would rather see them aging every day than meet them after a long time, when they look much older than when you met them last.

It exposed you to various cultures…
My agency jokes that there is no other actor with whom they travel as much as with me. India to NY, Morocco, Jordan. Somewhere in the beginning of my stint out of Iran I thought my face would be a barrier. But it became like a gift because I can be so many things. I can be an Indian as well as a Middle Eastern, a Spaniard as well as an American. I am very blessed in a way. I feel tremendous amount of gratitude.

But meeting your parents abroad must be a difficult way to be
Especially now when my parents are of a certain age. You miss seeing their hair turn grey. I would rather see them aging every day than meet them after a long time, when they look much older than when you met them last.

http://www.thehindu.com/opinion/op-ed/golshifteh-farahani-all-my-inspiration-is-from-my-longing-for-iran/article8082593.ece

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1 Comment
  1. Author
    sputnik 3 years ago

    Had liked her a lot as Sepideh in About Elly.

    “Banished from her country for working in a ‘Western’ film, Ridley Scott’s Body of Lies (2008) with Leonardo DiCaprio, she has been courting many a controversy since — for exposing one of her breasts for a French promotional video for the Cesars, the French version of the Oscars; and doing a nude photo shoot for the French magazine, Egoiste. ”

    Did not know this and googled out of curiosity and must say its very brave and bold of her.

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