Malek-Motiee: The Regime Hated him, Iranians Loved him

Malek-Motiee: The Regime Hated him, Iranians Loved him

Monday, 28 May, 2018 - 05:30
Part of the funeral procession
London - Amir Taheri
“Qaysar, where are you? They’re killing your people!” This was one of the slogans chanted by thousands of mourners in Tehran on Sunday as they joined the funeral procession of one of Iran’s top film stars who died last week aged 88.

“Qeysar” was the name of one of the more the galaxy of top film stars.

Islamic zecurity had forbidden any eulogies in Sunday’s ceremonies to honor the star and there were fears that some marchers might transform the day into another anti-regime occasion.

However, the procession right to the graveyard where the star was buried went relatively peacefully.

The procession started in front of the House of Cinema and was attended by a “who-is-who” of Iranian cinema, theatre and artistic elite. But the bulk of the estimated 30,000 people who turned up were ordinary citizens, people of all generations who have lived with Malek-Motiee’s films for almost three generations. Soon after he seized power in Tehran Ruhollah Khomeini banned Malek-Motiee and virtually all other actors and actresses of Iranian cinema. Many of them, including Malek-Motiee, were thrown in prison and subjected to a total ban on the mention of their names let alone participation in artistic events. However, the pre-Khomeini cinema continued to live and, thanks to new technology, popular films have been seen by millions of Iranians through the Internet or via satellite TV channels based outside Iran.

Malek-Motiee brought new strata of Iranian society under limelight, playing ordinary folks in extraordinary situations, poor-but-noble men, marginals and lovers. He was fetish actor of Samuel Khachikian, father of Iranian film-noir. Mullahs hated him, Iranians loved him.

From his first feature film "Velgard" (Vagabond) it was clear that the camera loved Malek-Motiee and was loved back by him. His style of acting, a mixture of strength, flexibility and grace, enabled him to avoid being type-cast, a danger that Iranian film-stars faced in the post-Second World War period.

In films such as “Afsungar” (The Enchantress) and "The Crossroad of Events" he played the tough guy facing seemingly insurmountable challenges.

Later, he also learned the art of dealing with television as a new medium, adding small-screen stardom to his already well-established star status in cinema.

Iranian cinema started in 1906 with a number of short films which we now label documentaries. The first feature films came in the 1920s and the first “talkie”, the now classical “Jaafar and Golnar” came in 1936. However, it was only in the late 1940s that film-making in Iran developed into a full-scale industry. Such films as “Masti Eshq” (Drunk with Love) and “Sharmsar” (Repentant) attracted audiences large enough to sustain the industry.

Malek-Motiee began his career in the 1950s and soon a mass following of his own. By the 1970s, Iran was one of the four biggest producers of feature films after the US, India and France.

In the late 1950s, as roving reporter for the then fashionable weekly "Roshanfekr" (Intellectual) I interviewed Malek-Motiee on a number of occasions. We also met as members of the Tehran Cine Club presided over by the renowned film critic and cineaste Houshang Kavousi.

Malek-Motiee was never political. So I always wondered why ayatollahs hated him to the point of banning him from the screen, even forbidding the mention of his name in the state-controlled media.

One reason, perhaps, was that Malek-Motiee was the first Iranian actor to kiss an actress, the gorgeous Vida Qahremani, on lips, a scene that had the effect of an earthquake throughout Iran! Rumour had it that after hearing of the "outrage" on screen Ayatollah Golpayegani of Qom almost suffered a heart attack.

Qahremani had to go into semi-clandestinely, refusing new roles for two years.

Asked about the historic kiss on celluloid at the time, Malek-Motiee told “Roshanfekr“ that he still coveted the "kisses not yet given".

Malek-Motiee's favorite actors included the French Jean Gabin, the Italian Aldo Fabrizi, the Russian Sergei Bondarchuk, the British Alec Guinness and the American Frederic March. An avid film-buff, Malek-Motiee, or "Agha Nasser" to his friends, liked to see a minimum of three films a week. Cinema was his life and, for generations, he was the life of Iranian cinema.

A thorough gentleman, Malek-Motiee was a symbol of all that was good about Iran at a time that much was good about Iran.

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