"Contraband" movies & CDs make us forget real
October 10, 2000
Haven't seen the latest movie? The one your cousin who lives in the
States told you about? No problem. Just ask. Mornings, evenings or even
late at night. You can get anything you want from these guys. Some own
newspaper kiosks and just as you are about to pay them for a magazine they'll
say, " I've got a lot more stuff down here you might want to look
at. I've also got movies and some pretty cool music videos. I've even got
Kourosh's new song." "No thanks," I reply and I leave wondering:
who in the world is Kourosh?
Some sell cigars, some toys, and others don't do anything except stand
in a corner on the sidewalk and say: "New movies, CDs, music videos.
. ." Some will even come to your door every week with the latest if
you pay them a little more. And they don't just sell "bad" American
movies. They have everything including Turkish and Indian movies and even
Iranian ones which are currently showing in theaters.
Well, I'm very very curious. I finally risk danger and ask one to show
me what he has. He takes me down into a bookstore, yells something to the
salesman and opens a door leading into a room full of boxes. He opens one.
"These are the Iranian movies," he says. " I've got everything.
'Hemlock', 'The Red Ribbon', 'The Changed Man', 'Sheida', 'Motevaled-e
Mah-e Mehr', . . ."
"Which one is the most expensive?" I ask.
"'Motevaled-e Mah-e Mehr' since it's new and Foroutan stars in
Takes a while for me to figure out who Foroutan is. The guy goes on,
"I sell about 12 every day but my the top selling one is 'The Cell'
and 'Mission Impossible 2'."
Where in the world has he gotten those from?
"We have our connections," he says. They've all been taped
with a cam-corder inside the theater, he adds. The pictures on the cases
have Chinese writings on them. I ask him about that.
"No, no. They don't speak Chinese. No one will buy them from me
that way. I'll lose all my regular customers. They've got Chinese subtitles."
This makes me guess that they probably have a deal with a few movie
theaters in Hong Kong or China. Places where getting this stuff would be
A LOT easier than in Europe or North America.
It seems as if he wants to name every single thing he has. "'Arous-e
atash', 'Hemlock' and 'Motevaled-e Mah-e Mehr' are 5000 tomans. I've got
CDs for 12,000. And I also have the Berlin Conference everyone's talking
about. The 4-hour version is 20,000 tomans; if you want the part where
the lady dances it will be 25,000 and if you also want the part where another
lady strips her clothes off, that's 30,000. Now what do you want?"
I pick out a cheap tape by some singer with a weird name. But before
I hand over the money, he starts over again. "That's it? Hey lady,
don't you want 'The Matrix', 'American Beauty'? I've even got an old movie
starring Behrouz Vosoughi and Googoosh."
I've been living in Tehran for a while now but it seems as if I've been
missing out on a lot that's been happening in the rest of the world. He
tells me about a bunch of "new movies" he's just brought in.
One of them includes actors with names I've ever heard. "Who are they?"
I ask. He stares at me as if he's seen a Martian. "You don't KNOW
the Turkish movie stars?" Sadly, I'm one of those unfortunate, very
very unlucky people who just hasn't had the pleasure of getting to know
these outstanding, wonderful actors. I guess I should jump off a building,
Indian songs and movies also seem to be popular here. The man goes over
the names. They all seem to have a "khan" at the end. He proudly
holds up a CD and tells me that this something khan "sounds exactly
like that American singer. . . I don't remember his name right now but
you won't find this CD anywhere else. I guarantee it." What kind of
a person would listen to some loser trying to imitate Americans? Many,
I find out later. And I figure I'm being too harsh. I prefer Mozart, Beethoven
or Schubert, Payvar and Maroofi, and The Beatles once or twice a year.
That make me practically a loser in the eyes of plenty of people my age.
The man talks on and on. Probably sales haven't been good this week
and he's determined to make a little money today. Though as I'm standing
there listening to him blabber away, two other men keep bringing in customers.
Regulars it seems. One boy asks for "Motevaled-e Mah-e Mehr".
I can't help it, I have to ask .
"You can see that in movie theaters right now for 600 tomans. Why
are you buying it here?"
The salesman looks as if he wants to punch me in the face. The boy answers
me anyways. "Oh, I hate Iranian movies. But I've heard a lot about
this one. All my buddies come over with their girlfriends on Thursdays.
We usually see an American movie but we'll have to settle for an Iranian
one this week."
Others - mostly men and women aged between 15 and 40 - come in to buy
albums and music videos by Turkish, Indian or American singers. I don't
see him selling many movies. I finally manage to get out of there somehow.
But it's interesting to see that this network sure works FAST. Exactly
the day after Googoosh's concert in Toronto these guys were holding CDs
and cassettes of hers all over the city offering people Googoosh's new
album. And it's amazing to see the range of people who buy them. Girls
pancaked in makeup and chadori ones alike. Well, at least they have something
Some believe this whole business is being supported by the Ministry
of Culture (ershad). Though I doubt that. No one's blind. The dealers are
easy to catch. If the police can spot a girl with too much make up and
force her to wipe it off, getting the dealers off the streets shouldn't
be that hard.
I don't watch any TV but I've never heard about shows like Entertainment
Tonight or Extra. I've never seen real tabloids or gossip columns either.
But we have the Iranian versions. As newspapers that write about political
and social problems are closed down, those that tell us what Googoosh wore
at her third concert, what Behrouz Vosoughi ate for lunch, which one of
the popular actors got married and which one bought a car, are increasing
by the minute. They've got huge centerfolds of Elvis Presley, Clark Gable,
Bryan Adams, that monkey boy Leonardo DiCaprio and even the long gone Kurt
Cobain. What's the story?
And for those who've been been forced to listen to American pop singers
all their lives without understanding a word, there's a new solution: Ashkmehr,
"The eastern boys", Mani something and even for the first time
an all-girl band named "Arian", although the salesman at the
store told me that a boy does the actual singing. Their albums are available
everywhere, as legal to own as a pair of basketball shoes.
We don't have political freedom? People are going hungry? The number
of drug addicts and homeless children are on the rise? Who cares. As long
as we're kept busy with Ashkmehr, something khan and Turkish music videos,
there are no problems, really. Those who think there are shortcomings are
definitely out of their minds. What kind of a fool could possibly want
Najmeh Fakhraie is a 17-year-old student in Tehran.