Rumi in tears

Plain bored by fundamentalist Islamic version of Rumi


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Rumi in tears
by Parviz Sayyad
21-Oct-2008
 

Under the pretext of celebrating Rumi, the 13th century Persian mystic, poet and philosopher, the Hollywood Bowl presented a showcase of Islamic fundamentalism on Sunday, September 27th. The event attracted a huge crowd (15,644 officially attended) made up mainly of Iranians who have emigrated to Southern California since the Islamic Revolution swept Iran in 1979.

Initially, they were proud and excited that the Hollywood Bowl was paying attention to their culture. They thought that perhaps the grandeur of the Bowl, together with a grand budget and grand vision has yielded a grand tribute to the beauties of their culture. But, by the end of the night, many of them, if not most, found themselves disappointed after being trapped for almost four hours, and forced to witness the less grand aspects of that same culture.

They were “trapped” because as all Angelenos know, you cannot leave the Bowl mid-show. In a regular theater or stadium, if you are not enjoying the program, you can express your displeasure by simply leaving. But, at the Bowl, you don’t have the luxury of escape. Your vehicle is stuck in a jungle of automobiles, or the bus you arrived in will not depart without your fellow passengers. This was the case for me and for many others who wanted desperately to leave the Hollywood Bowl on the night of September 27th. Instead, we had to sit back and watch our beloved Rumi be misrepresented to the point of becoming unrecognizable.

The title of a music review, written by Richard S. Ginell, (special to the Times, on Monday September 28th) is “The Silk Road to Happiness,” referring to the tenth anniversary of Yo-Yo Ma’s Silk Road Project and Ensemble, a group whose 2005 appearance at the Bowl drew a similarly large crowd. The article, however, does not tell us who actually experienced any “happiness” that night. Certainly, nothing “happy” was taking place on stage. And the audience was subjected to a constant barrage of traditional Islamic chanting and the recitation of Koranic verses, both of which share the quality of being quite mournful. Nour-Mohammad Dorpour set a poem by Rumi to music, but did so in the style of the traditional Islamic lament, usually meant to draw sobs from the listener.

The Qaderi Dervishes of Kurdistan set that same poem to music, but soon completely overwhelmed the poem in ecstatic chants calling on Allah and the Prophet Muhammad, until that was all that was left. With the exception of some poetry recital by Mr. Iraj Gorgin in Persian, and by Ms. Shohreh Aghdashloo in English, the evening was one of lamentation. Mr. Ginell seems unaware of 90% of that evening’s content, as do Mr. Yo-yo Ma and certainly the Bowl’s artistic advisors.

Sheik Hamza Shakour, lead vocalist with the Ensemble Al-Kindi, and backing the Whirling Dervishes of Damascus, starts his Koranic recitation by cursing “the cruel Great Satan” (“Al Sheitan al rajeem”). With the current tensions between the US and Islamic Extremists, that felt like a rather aggressive and ungracious opening from a group invited to Hollywood from an Islamic country known to be hostile towards Western values, and the US in particular. Sheik Hamza then goes on singing his verses, as if his doing so has any relation to Rumi whatsoever. These are the same verses chanted by devoted Muslims during daily prayers. And they are also recited at funerals as “fateha” over the tomb of the deceased Muslim.

Rumi’s “universal manifesto” as Ginell labels it, is “I am neither Christian, nor Jew, nor Zoroastrian, nor a Moslem.” From time to time, the moderators Gorgin and Aghdashloo reminded us of this important part of Rumi’s philosophy. But, in the rest of the program, the universal Rumi was sorely missing and missed. Instead, Rumi was represented as the most devoted of Muslims, and even as a fundamentalist.

In his early life, Rumi can be mistaken as being an Islamic cleric, which was the dominant interpretation at the Bowl on the night of September 27th. But Rumi’s famed philosophy and his global appeal does not stop at such a one-dimensional interpretation. For most Iranians, as well as many scholars, Rumi changes drastically upon meeting his muse, Shams, the mysterious Sufi philosopher. Rumi, at that point, turns into a figure of rebellion against his own previous views, religious dogma and the established morality coming from Islamic clichés.

Rumi then went further by humanizing the Divine. In his work, he reduces the Almighty into the figure of Shams, and elevates Shams to the level of the Almighty. At this point, he can no longer be seen as a Muslim cleric. What he says and what he suggests would be considered blasphemous, and therefore punishable by death to any actual Muslim cleric.

For the Iranian audience at the Bowl, listening to Iraj Gorgin reciting Rumi was enjoyable. Mr. Gorgin who is now working with a US government-backed radio network in the Czech Republic is best remembered as a lead news anchor and television personality during the Shah’s regime. Seeing him without a tie for the first time, on a wide screen at the Hollywood Bowl was a bit shocking for those who knew him. Whether it was to pay homage to the evening’s religious mood, or to the style of Islamic Republic diplomats attending the UN at that time, his simplicity was in complete contrast to the actress Shohreh Aghdashloo’s attire as Madam Butterfly, displaying herself more than Rumi’s poetry as she waved her arms like an actual butterfly!

Sitting there for over 3 hours, watching one of the greatest, most progressive thinkers of all time butchered on stage, brings you to a point at which not even the most magical piece of music could change your mood. That was the point for me when Yo-Yo Ma and his Silk Road Ensemble took the stage to finish the last segment of the show. It was also a time when, even those not particularly sensitive about Rumi, were just plain bored by the fundamentalist Islamic version of him, accompanied by pathetic and amateurish music, the miserly lack of stage decoration, and the mind-numbing action of returning repeatedly to the calligraphy of Ostad Yadollah Kaboli. Talented as Kaboli is, when did calligraphy become acceptable as performance?

“Blue as the Turqoise Night of Neyshabur” composed by Keyhan Kalhor, the evening’s curator, performed by the Silk Road Ensemble was a breath of fresh air compared to the rest of the show, but not so fresh as to save us from a suffocating night.

Parviz Sayyad is an actor, playwright, filmmaker and political activist.


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Khejalat bekesh

by Esfandiyar (not verified) on

What a stupid and childish article. Khejalat bekesh. I think this was the absolutely stupidest part:

Sheik Hamza Shakour, lead vocalist with the Ensemble Al-Kindi, and backing the Whirling Dervishes of Damascus, starts his Koranic recitation by cursing “the cruel Great Satan” (“Al Sheitan al rajeem”). With the current tensions between the US and Islamic Extremists, that felt like a rather aggressive and ungracious opening from a group invited to Hollywood from an Islamic country known to be hostile towards Western values, and the US in particular.

If you knew anything, you would know that ANY recital of the Qur'an begins with "I seek refuge in God from Satan, the Accursed." I am not a Muslim and even I know this. It has nothing to do with politics, and he would say the same thing whether reciting in Syria, the US, or anywhere else. The article overall is a profound refusal to understand Rumi or Islam. It is the petulant cry of a fussy baby who screams "I don't like it!" before eating something he has never tried. You're just another spoiled soosool in the diaspora who instantly equates anything Islamic with "mourning." Why don't you just stay home next time and not ruin great art for the rest of us?


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kerad

by jaram (not verified) on

[islam]Moslem's thieves of iranian callcher and nathing moor - the one how is {iranian} is awere of that. {ram iran}


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kerad

by jaram (not verified) on


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Anonymous observer: You're

by sickoflies (not verified) on

Anonymous observer: You're right. Attacking Khodadad was childish. I'm familiar with Khodadad's work.

My apologies to Mr. Khodadad.


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The distinct smell of "Islamaphobia"

by Anonymous-today (not verified) on

Molana's poetry as any Iranian knows is revered by Iranians (among others, but I can only speak as someone born in Iran) almost on the same scale as Qur'an, and just as is the case with holy books is open to interpretation. But regardless of how you interpret Molana' work, one can't deny that it is steeped in Islam, you can't get away from that. Yes, his work is most emphatically in contrast with the orthdox Islam, almost all Sofis were, but it is within Islamic tradtition. It also carries the tradition of pre-Islamic culture of Iran as well as influence of Platonic philosophy. I wasn't at the show and can't really dispute Sayyad's take but it seems to me he may be overreacting. His annoyance with "Al Sheitan al rajeem" is the telltale sign. Any half baked Muslem knows how standard of an opening and closing this verse is. To interpret this as provocation is a tad too rich. It seems to me Sayyad's annoyance has to do more with the same old thing it has alwys been with secular bourgeoiuse
intelelctuals in Iran. That the Molana presented wasn't hip enough for his taste, too much roze-khooni. Sayyad's ideal "Rumi" is a sort of defanged version, presentable to middle-classes, a sort of New Age poet, preferrably de-Islamasized. Well, I'm not a huge fan of Islamism either but there is no need to get hysterical. Interesting that he talks about Gorgin with such sense of nostalgia. The real voice he should have mentioned, the one missing from this event, would've been that of Shamloo whose readings of Molana is the one I associate with my childhood.


Anonymous Observer

Sickoflies

by Anonymous Observer on

I agree with everything that you said about systematic Islamization of Iran and the related revisionist history.  I have said that for a long time myself.  But, please do not attack Khodadad.  He is a great student of Persian history (specially the Sassanid era) and is an important contributer to the current efforts at understanding the Sassanid social structure.  He is the farthest thing from being an Iran history denier.  In fact, you should visit his website, which has a wealth of objective information about Iran.  Here's a link:

 http://www.iranologie.com/history/history.html

Additionally, Khodadad is a collaborator with Prof. Touraj Daryaee, who is a great scholar of Persian history.

Persia is Eternal.


Ahmed from Bahrain

Irandokht, Thank you

by Ahmed from Bahrain on

for quoting the actual Rumi verses. I can see that he is describing the nature of God, for He is neither of one side nor of the other BUT the sum of all that and then some more.

When a human being elevates him/herself to that level they too become God-like, as we are each a face or representation of God. Only through coming out of that individuality we are able to see the total sum. Like they say: The summit is clearer to the mountineer from the plain.

In essesnce God is the creator of both Heaven and Hell, East and West, light and darkness, good and bad, etc. Nothing is outside of God. Whilst we are a part of that, we have within us the seed to be the total.

That seed when planted it has a beatutiful fruit. It is called love which becomes the wing with which we can soar higher than Creation and when we see that in ourselves, it becomes very hard to put us back in the box.

As a 16 year old I used to say religion is meant to free us, not chain us. At 60 I now know that for sure. I enjoy everything and reject nothing. Surprisingly, I find myself surrounded by people I truly love. Any music is good for the soul and a glass or two of red happens to be good for the heart, not to mention other parts.

Salamati

Ahmed from Bahrain


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Let's face it, the Islamists

by sickoflies (not verified) on

Let's face it, the Islamists have owned the discourse for 30 years now and those who were born after the revolution or very young during the revolution cannot possibly delineate between being Iranian and Islamist. The lines have been blurred by the systematic Islamization and revisionist history.

WE HAD ALLOWED THE partisan/oghdehis like "bag it", GET AWAY WITH THE PREMISE THAT OBJECTIVE REALITY DOES NOT EXIST. In a few years, they will argue that Iran did not really exist before Islam and will have their Iranian studies experts to re-write the entire history.

The issues that underscore Islamists incuriousity and the distortion of truth are philosophical and thus the battleground must also be on a philosophical level. And it's important to remember that philosophical battles cannot be won unless we go back to fundmental philosophical premises of how as Iranians we want the future of Iran to look like; backdward under Sharia, or progressive under Rumi's philosophy.

The Islamic fundamentalist exploitation of Rumi is despicable as isthe IRI's brutal treatment of the sufis in Iran.

Sufis attacked in Iran:
http://www.democraticunderground.com/discuss/duboa...


Khodadad Rezakhani

Oh, bag it!

by Khodadad Rezakhani on

The problem is not that the music was mournful Mr. Sayyad, the problem is that you and many people like you somehow imagine that everything has to fit within a limited set of standards. The piece by Nour-Mohammad was not mournful, it was just on a north Khorasani musical scale. You could say that you hate North Khorasani music and that it should be wiped off the face of the earth, but don't call it "Islamic Fundamentalis"! Qaderi Dervishes started their session with "Baaz Havaaye Vatanam Aarezoost", unless you have problems with the whole homeland, I think that was a pretty cheerful piece! Some people, actually embarrassingly, started clapping with their music!!!! The Syrian Dervishes started with reciting the Quran, and "Down with the Humiliated Satan" is a standard for starting the recitation of the Quran and your "translation" of the "Great Satan", was not only misleading, but meaningless. It is a formula repeated long before any Islamic Republic existed. The issue is that you think everything shouold be "chic" and presentable to the audiences in whose presence you feel an inferiority complex. Well, sorry, these guys were not immigrants, they lived in their own countries and they were just here to actually show you how it is done. After all, Dervishes cannot pretend not to be Muslims just because you guys feel that any presentation of one's Muslim belief means that you are a fundamental Islamist. They are, after all, Dervishes! It is like asking a Church chorus not to make any mention of Jesus when singing!!!! I was among the many people there, and I noticed that everyone around me enjoyed the programme. The only thing we were complaining about was the people coming in late and not letting us see the programme in peace. We, by the way, were sitting back on the cement seats, enjoying, while you were in special boxes, apparently squirming. Leave Mowlana to his own, and next time around, find a more chic mowlana to showcase...


hamidbak

You're right

by hamidbak on

Boy, I had my sword drawn ready to cut this to pieces, but unlike most commentors, I read the whole thing and decided you're right Mr. Sayad. 

I didn't know how you could understand Kurdish and Arabic, while figuring out what Rumi means in most of his sayings.  But you either know both languages or had someone translate.  Never the less,  you are right, the Islamic tone was felt througout the program. Now "fanaticism", I'm not so sure about.  It all seemed quite harmless, especially since most of us in the audience had no idea what they were saying pass "Allah".

I got lost in the midst of the choleography, which took me back to my childhood and how my father used to love to cut and sharpen his pens.  He so passionately loved the art that I attended to the hand writings more than anything else.

I do hope, however, that someone like you, an acomplished actor, a director, and perhaps a producer, could do much better.  For the sake of what Rumi stands for, the Iranian and now the non-Iranian thirst for Rumi, you could do so much better.

I will volunteer for this project and will be one of the first people to buy tickets for your project.  I know it can be done a lot better.

 

 


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I am in tears

by Joybari (not verified) on

I concur with every point you made Mr. Sayyad. The event was a total disaster. I invited several of our non Persian speaking children along hoping that some beautiful Persian music and poetry would bring them closer to our culture. Although, with their typical polite American attitude they did not say anything negative, I felt their disappointments. The evening was an expensive proposition. Frankly, we all should demand a refund.


AmirAshkan Pishroo

زیرِعبا

AmirAshkan Pishroo


Dear Irandoxt,

 

I take my Persian literary cue from Yadollah Royaei who correctly says,

 

فراموش نکنیم که مثنوی معنوی ِ مولوی کتابی است که هنوزدارد وعظ و منبر را
تغذیه می‌کند، در خانقاه و درمسجد. اگر نه به تظاهر، لااقل همیشه با
واعظان ما (نخبه‌هاشان) زیرِعبا می‌رود.


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Rumi in tears

by alofteh (not verified) on

I don't think the program was that bad and most of the people and the American who were sitting around us were really enjoying it. The last part with yo yo ma and Mr Kalhor worth the first tiring part.The problem was that each section of the program was so long and I think the most suffering for me was the time that Shohreh Aghdoshloo was on the stage and reciting the poetry with the very heavy accent that even the Iranian could not understand. I hope next time they bring one of the young Iranian American with no accent so the American also enjoy the meaning of fhe poetry of this grear poet.


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THE ACTOR , THE GENIUS, THE ARTIST

by Sadaf Alerassoul (not verified) on

Mr.Sayyad once again proves his genius and shows off his deep roots buried deep down in the tradition of TRUE and PURE Persian culture and Iranian tradition without ANY traces of ANY religion mixed in... and that was what EXACTLY Rumi was all about.. this deep ocean is where he has for ever been quenching his thirst on...no wonder his whole artistic career has proved to be more fruitful than Iran's past century of arts put together...he is the FACE of our country...he IS art in motion.He IS ART in LIFE. He is IRAN. Sayyad is someone who is by no means any LESS than Ferdowsi, in measures of what he has done single handedly for Iran and Iranian culture...to beat him up like some did on this page in the name of the lowest of lows of all human thought processes, albeit in the name of ANY religion tells me enough about the depth of the vast abyss we are stuck in as a nation and how hard it is to get out…


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uhmmm

by Iranprincess (not verified) on

I am waching the lady here and some times every where tell irooni people what they said or kind of sokhanrani and bazkhast . are you kind of judge of of spania exquistion . are you the owner of irani.com ?. why always try scare other readers , khanandeha about their opinions . i don;t think its nice what you do .gholdori is bad. always me me me. sorry my english. i come here late from akhoond iran. this is bad for peeple freadom she make me think of akhoonds . i dont want you mad again sory.


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Iranian Poets and Islam

by Truthseeker (not verified) on

By Unknown:

"These poets had to plant love back to hearts of victimized and despairing people.

It is widely accepted for your information among academic circle that the brutality of Islam is not something new. In our famous poets’ times, Islam was more vicious and indeed crueler with no human rights watch group over them and no international laws. These poets had to plant love back to hearts of victimized and despairing people against the most barbaric ideology, the Islamic cult ruling their daily lives and poetry was the best instrument. These poets could not jeopardize their own lives; they were not revolutionaries. Instead, they offered love to people and tried to humanize and reform this backward and brutal Islam cult through their poetries. However, Islam has not and can not be reformed. We have been witnessing all atrocities of Islamic Republic of Iran against Iranians. The backwardness of Islam and Islam being an obstacle to our freedom and democracy in Iran is well recognized to suffering Iranians and if you become an apologist here after 1400 years of nothing but misery you would very well position yourself with this dark force."


IRANdokht

Jaleho

by IRANdokht on

I am not going to discuss Molana or anyone's interpretations of his work and philosophy here.  People are already telling me I am clueless about Rumi, about the war, about the politics, about spying and about pigeons etc...

You made it sound as if those words were not Rumi's and I copy/pasted the actual piece that they were quoting and translating. it was just an FYIof what that passage in Mr Sayyad's article referred to.

IRANdokht


IRANdokht

Mr Pishroo aziz

by IRANdokht on

For someone who is always quoting all the western philosophers and thinkers, you are pretty down on Rumi who has been an inspiration to a lot of people through centuries...

what's with all the bitterness? 

IRANdokht


Jaleho

Dilution of Eastern Sufism and Erfan

by Jaleho on

and one of its most beautiful manifestation in the form of Molana's poetry, has become "universal manifisto" of Rumi by the "neither Christian, nor jew or Moslem" crowd!

Irandokht, how about this interpretation from Zarrinkoob instead

تمام عالم عرصه جنگ و نزاع بین خیر و شر و دین با کافریست. تضادی که در فعل و طبع بین عناصر و ذرات  کاینات هست، در احوال و افکار و معنی‌ هم جلوه دارد و اینهمه به عالم حس تعلق دارد که عالم اضداد است و محکوم به فنا است. از هیمین جا، مولانا وجود عالمی را که خالی‌ از اضداد و ورای تضاد بین خیر و شر است نشان میدهد و آن عالم  را منشا این عالم که دنیای اضداد و به همین سبب دنیای محنت و اندوه هاست میداند. در عین حال، در دنیأی که قلمرو اضداد است، مولانا نجات انسان را در تسلیم وی به جاذبه لطف حق و در نفی اختیار و قدرت از خویش میابد که به عقیده او، بدون آن  نمیتوان در بارگاه کبریا راه یافت.


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You could leave the concert

by 0-0 (not verified) on

You could leave the concert and go for a walk. That is how other cultures know Rumi and that is the beauty of him. I haven't seen anything after Samad from you except anger, expectation and dissatisfied attitude. What happend to the creation of an artist?


AmirAshkan Pishroo

A dilapidated house of being

by AmirAshkan Pishroo on

What more did you think you were going to get out of celebrating Rumi?

Did you think that Rumi simply showing us the way out of a dusty fly-bottle?

Think again.


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hm

by Anonymous0009 (not verified) on

this just shows that you actually do not understand Rumi at all. I guess he is right every time he refrains from continuing because as he says people won't understand. It would be good if some of you actually studied the sufi culture and for that matter some poetry.
Rumi and his love are not political for you to mold him into something you want to see as your culture.


IRANdokht

FYI: That was not Aghdashloo's or Mr Sayyad's own words

by IRANdokht on

چه تدبــــیرای مســــلمــــــانــــان کــــه مـــن خــــود را نمــــیدانــــم
نـــــه ترسا نه یهــــودیــــم نــــه گــبـــــرم نــــه مســـلــــمانـــم
نه از خـــاکـــم نه از بــــادم نه از آبـــم نــــه از آتــــش
نه از عرشم نه از فرشــــم نه از اینم نه از انم
نه شرقیم نه غربیم نه بری ام نه بحریم
نه ارکان طبیعیم نه از افلاک گردانم
مکانم لا مکان باشد نشانم بی نشان باشد
نــه تــــن باشد نه جان باشد که من از جـــان جانانم
دویــــی از خــــود بــــرون کـــردم یـــکی بینم دو عالــم را
یـــــکی گـــــویـــــــم یــــــکی جـــــــویـــم یـکی دانـــم یکی خـوانم

 

IRANdokht

PS: Azarin jan remind me to check it, I have two more of the same Bordeaux left ;-)


Jaleho

Actually Sima,

by Jaleho on

Mr. Sayyad's interpretation of Molana IS that of the new western obsession with "International Rumi" of Chopra and Madonna. That is, Molana supposedly is not the fervent Muslim Sufi, student of Attar, who has started the Sufi Madresahs and had all those Muslim "morids," rather he was just Muslim when he was young and didn't know any better!

Later, according to this crowd, he is "neither Christian, nor Jew, nor Zoroastrian, nor a Moslem," god knows who has written the story of "three travelers" for him then?

Here, read his article again:

"Rumi’s “universal manifesto” as Ginell labels it, is “I am neither Christian, nor Jew, nor Zoroastrian, nor a Moslem.” From time to time, the moderators Gorgin and Aghdashloo reminded us of this important part of Rumi’s philosophy. But, in the rest of the program, the universal Rumi was sorely missing and missed. Instead, Rumi was represented as the most devoted of Muslims, and even as a fundamentalist.

In his early life, Rumi can be mistaken as being an Islamic cleric, which was the dominant interpretation at the Bowl on the night of September 27th. "


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Mr. Saayad: Don't get mad,

by Anonymous... (not verified) on

Mr. Saayad: Don't get mad, get even. Why don't you organize an event to counter this distorted version of Rumi.

It appears that the IRI after reaching out to academic lobbyists in the US is now on a crusade to reach out to musicians and artists to do its bidding. The propaganda budget of the IRI seems to be infinitely larger than we thought.


sima

Thank you Mr. Sayyad

by sima on

A very informed and intelligent piece of criticism. This recent western obsession with "Rumi" is such a hoax and so illiterate that I feel tongue-tied trying to describe it -- where do you even begin... It is a know-nothing's version of orientalist cultural imperialism: you take whatever you want from the east and do whatever you want with it without needing to know anything about it or even speak the damn language. At least the old orientalists put in some effort learning to read Pesian! 

When you have this level of ignorance and illiteracy it is only a matter of time before all kinds of demogogues with political agendas will hop on board. We will forgive Yo Yo Ma and ignore Madonna but Mr. Gorgin and Ms. Aghdashlou should have known better.


Anonymous Observer

Nice Narrative

by Anonymous Observer on

Thank you Mr. Sayyad for the nice description of the event.  BTW, your 1980's movie Frestadeh is one of my all time favorites.  It was a magnificently made movie.   

Persia is Eternal.


samsam1111

True Portrayal !!!

by samsam1111 on

It goes to show You That You practicaly proved my point, that except in the case of Ferdowsi, Daghighi & a few ,  the rest of kharabati , contemporary poets of Post-Sassanid Iran were nothing but willing, passive cultural agents of Omatism & shaikhism. No amount of cosmetic & make up is gone change the fact . How many times the term Iran was used in Divan-Hafiz-al-Koran vs great Ferdowsi? ...none..The portrayal in the show , was correct . Let,s not fool ourselves about Rumi , Hafiz & the like . 

Regards !!! 


choghok

Art is open for interpretation

by choghok on

Since Rumi is universal you have to accept that he is universally translated to different forms. I would think that Christians, Jews and Hindus appreciate him in their own way. As well as Madonna and Chopra and their friends have their own way of appreciating him.

If you like the way of Madonna and her friends then go to their program, but do not bash someone just because he is calling on Allah or reciting Quran verses. Those are actually things that is done in the Sufi schools that Rumi started.

/Bidar bash ke ma bekhabim


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The past 30 years

by Tehrani3000 (not verified) on

Read "Parviz Sayyad's Theater of Diaspora" by Hamid Dabashi. Also visit: http://www.thestoning.com/sayyad.html

PARVIZ SAYYAD
by Peter Chelkowski
New York University

In a chapter entitled “Popular Entertainment, Media and Social Change in Twentieth Century Iran,” which I wrote several years ago for the Cambridge History of Iran, vol. VII, I devoted two pages out of fifty to Parviz Sayyad, subtitling the piece “Parviz Sayyad-the Bridge between the Past and the Present.”

Parviz Sayyad made his entrance onto the Iranian stage and into Iran’s film and television arena at a time when something significant of traditional Iranian entertainment and performing arts had ceased to exist. He very nearly single-handedly rescued these traditional Iranian forms of performance from oblivion, by gathering and presenting them on television and on stage, as well as at various Art Festivals. His work with traditional Iranian performing arts such as Naggalli (storytelling), ta’Taziyeh (Shií passion play) and Ruhowzi (improvised comedies)is similar to that of Carlo Gozzi’s in Italy at the end of the Eighteenth Century, when Gozzi tried to prolong the life of the Commedia dell Arte as a meaningful cultural institution for the general public.

At the same time that Sayyad is a traditionalist, he is a modern director, actor, playwright, and visionary, almost bordering on avante-garde theater and film. Between the years 1960 and 1977 Sayyad produced, staged, directed, filmed, played a role in, or wrote screenplays for some 900 programs for Iranian television, movies and theater.

For Iranian television, Sayyad created a whole cast of stock characters, who reflected Iranian society in all walks of life. One of the best examples of the cross-breeding of tradition with modernity is the character Samad, whom Sayyad created and developed for countless television programs and 9 full-length feature films. Samad, the simple good-hearted peasant, became the beloved hero for Iranian television and cinema audiences in the 1970’s.

Particularly outstanding were 21 feature films for which Sayyad either wrote the screenplays, directed, acted or produced. He achieved international recognition through the showing of his movies at film festivals in Berlin, Paris, London, and Moscow. The commercial success of his films made it possible for him to be a financial force behind the production of more meaningful and artistic films from eminent Iranian author-directors like Ebrahim Golestan, Farrokh Ghaffarif and Sohrab Shahid Saless.

The chapter in the Cambridge History of Iran, in which I dubbed Sayyad the “Bridge between the Past and the Present,” was written before Sayyad’s artistic creativity started to have an impact on a new audience: the Iranians now living in the Diaspora. Through his films and theatrical productions, Sayyad now becomes a “bridge” between Iran proper and the Diaspora. He becomes a vital link between the immigrants and the soil of Iran, with its deep and flourishing Zoroastrian, Muslim and modern roots. And, though that connection helps many in the audience to recharge their patriotic batteries, for others it is like the Zoroastrian bridge of conscious good and evil which hangs between heaven and the place of damnation.