Indian superstar Aishwarya Rai barely registered a blimp in casting directors’ books after starring in Gurinder Chadha’s Bride and Prejudice last year. Mighty Bollywood has yet to claim a Hollywood star. A year ago, however, Los Angeles’ humble Iranian exile theatre boasted an Oscar nominee from among its ranks.
Today as a middle-aged, Middle Eastern woman, it is remarkable that Shohreh Aghdashloo is where she is — inside a lily-white institution where most female leads are offered to women 20 years her junior. So it was jolly good fun when DreamWorks, maker of House of Sand and Fog, took a one-page ad out in Variety, urging Academy voters to tick ‘Aghdashloo’ for best supporting actress, and not Renée Zellweger. (A move that got the company censured.)
Magazines are stuffed with stories of showbiz rivalry, how refreshing it was to see one “our own” — from the Diaspora — pitted against the best of the West.
One year on, however, Shohreh makes an aside or two about another of her contemporaries, the Iranian “diva” Googoosh, on a satellite TV talk show, and the knives are out. Is it not perfectly acceptable to have rivalry among celebrities? Is it not riveting?
Reaction from one or two of Googoosh’s fans suggests not. Feathers have been ruffled with vicious, if incoherent, insults being hurled at the actor. “How dare she take a swipe?” Aghdashloo is jealous, they say, that she will never be as popular as ‘La Goog’. In fact, that doesn’t add up. In career terms, Googoosh has already spent her best years. Shohreh’s are just beginning.
After leaving Iran and caving in to her craving for adoration, Googoosh admitted her mortality. Just as Michael Jackson lost living-myth status after that Oprah interview, so Googoosh did when she quit Iran. The magic and enigma of existing solely in the imagination of her fans was lost.
But although Googoosh is no longer a god, exceptionally talented pop singer she remains. The worst Aghdashloo might have done is to point this out. Some, I remember, were similarly protective about Khatami when he came to power in 1997. To criticize him was to blaspheme. Now everyone’s doing it. Perhaps history might at least credit Aghdashloo with tickling Googoosh’s disciples — over which she has no control — into realising that idol worship gives you blood pressure.
Meanwhile, Shohreh herself has been lambasted for landing a role as the mother of a terrorist in the forthcoming TV show 24, and perpetuating stereotypes [See: “Performer's choice“]. That's preposterous; who’s mother should she be playing?