Iran, like the rest of the Middle East, nightly soap operas have become a popular ritual for the month of Ramadan. The idea is that those who fast from dawn to dusk might be too exhausted for late night outings and appreciate some home entertainment.
Iran’s state-owned broadcast company spends a lavish budget each year commissioning famous actors and directors to produce several Ramadan specials for each of its channels. These soap operas compete for viewers offering everything from family dramas to love stories and comedy.
But it turns out that this year’s surprise Ramadan hit is not a soap opera. It’s a documentary lionizing Reza Shah Pahlavi, the founder of the Pahlavi dynasty and father of the deposed shah, depicting him as a great nationalist and visionary.
London-based Persian Satellite channel Manoto TV aired the documentary this past weekend. Since then it’s been re-broadcast several times, downloaded and saved and passed from hand to hand in Tehran and other cities.
It has taken Iran by storm. So much so that by Tuesday most Iranian media had published some sort of reaction. But interestingly, the debate surrounding the movie has mostly centered on why it has had such mass appeal.
The news website Khabaronline.ir, affiliated with conservative and influential speaker of parliament Ali Larijani, wrote that stories about the Pahlavi family are always interesting to most Iranians because they don’t trust the version of history put forth by the regime.
“People don’t trust the official line anymore. The rhetoric we’ve used [in describing the Pahlavis] has expired. Plus we can’t deny history, people have eyes, they see the university and the railroad that he [Reza Shah] built,” the commentary said.
For starters, the movie challenges a core principle of the Islamic Republic’s regime: that monarchy was absolutely destructive and the Pahlavi dynasty, the last monarch overthrown in the 1979 revolution, did nothing good for Iran.
The documentary traces the life and rise of Reza Shah from a soldier in the army to monarch and then abdication of throne and death in exile in South Africa. The closing shot is of revolutionary thugs led by a clergy shouting “Allah o Akbar” or “God is Great” hammering down his mausoleum in south Tehran and breaking his tombstone.
Most Iranian viewers interviewed and those who have written about the movie on blogs and on social media sites say that they cried at the closing scene and were filled with regret and anger.
“I just watched this documentary for the third time and I’m shocked at how we didn’t appreciate him. Praise to Reza Shah the father of modern Iran,” wrote a woman named Giti Gol on the Facebook page of Manoto TV.
At a meeting this week between industrial managers and worker committees, talk of the Reza Shah documentary dominated the session.
“The workers are very religious and typically pro-regime but they were all floored by this movie and kept saying Reza Shah was a great man,” said a manager who attended the meeting in Tehran.
The story of Reza Shah is also, by default, the story of modern day Iran. Politicians and historians criticize and debate the Pahlavi dynasty’s politics and authoritarian rule but there is little dispute that Reza Shah lay the foundation of modernizing Iran.
Using real historical footage from Iranian and European archives, the movie shows how the Shah, who ruled from 1925 to 1941, founded Iran’s first university, railroad, public hospital, national bank, roads, tunnels, oil refinery, museums and cultural centers to a list a few. The movie delves little into political repression and only brushes lightly on how Reza Shah didn’t tolerate criticism and alienated even his closest advisers.
Most Iranians—about 60 percent of the population of 75 million—were not even born before the revolution. They look to pre-1979 Iran under a monarch with nostalgia and perhaps a dose of naiveté. They hear stories from their parents and grandparents that sound dream like: an average salary was enough to have a prosperous life and savings; women could swim in bikinis; youth could dance at nightclubs and drink local beer at bars and Iranians could travel the world, with ease and respect.
The young generation isn’t interested to hear of the oppressive political environment under the Pahlavi reign, of the political prisoners and price of activism. Perhaps because they see that three decades later the political oppression that brought the masses to the streets still exists but so much else is gone.
July 30, 2013Read the full article...