Going to the movies seems like such a simple thing to do nowadays. All I have to do is to call up a couple of friends, decide on a movie and off we go. But back when I was a 12-year-old kid in Iran, going to the movies was a rare luxury for me.
You see my dad was 62 years old and my mom was 39 when I was born. So by the time I was approaching my teenage years, they were both too old and tired to even want to leave the house, let alone go to a movie. In fact, I wasn't aware of my dad ever having gone to a movie. He seemed very happy and content with staying home drinking tea and reading his books, and my mom loved to visit the neighbors and cook for the family. And no matter how much I begged or whined at my parents to take me to a movie, they never gave in. Fortunately for them, they must have lost most of their hearing by that time; otherwise they would have been tortured with my constant whining.
The only times that I was allowed to go to a movie was during summers. That's when my brother Kiomars, would come to visit us on his leave from the naval academy and I was on my summer school break. I idolized Kiomars as the coolest person that existed on the planet. He always looked so handsome in his naval uniform and wearing the Rayban sunglasses. Kiomars also had great taste in choosing the best movies for us to watch.
I remember him taking me to watch “You Only Live Twice“. That was my first exposure to James Bond and the beginning of my lifelong love affair with James Bond stories. Another summer, he took me to see Bruce Lee's “Enter The Dragon“. That was also the beginning of my many misadventures with broken fingers and a dislocated shoulder, which were a direct result of trying to be like Bruce. But summers were too short and my brother's leave time was never long enough.
Once the school year started, any opportunity to go to a movie also came to a halt. My classmates and friends though, kept up with the latest movie releases. I remember feeling inadequate when my friends talked about the latest Steve McQueen and Clint Eastwood movies and then playing a game by acting out their favorite scenes. I tried to join in but I was always told that I didn't played the part of the heroes right since I hadn't seen the movie. So they would have me play the part of the bad guy each time, either being shot over and ove, or getting punched out in slow motion. I wanted so much to be able to see one of these movies so I could then play the role of a good guy, but that opportunity never came during the school year.
One day, when I was feeling gloomy and my mom was having guests, someone asked me why I was not my jubilant self. To which I replied that I never got to go to a movie because my parents were old and that they were just happy staying home and drinking tea. My parents seemingly having been embarrassed by my comment then started explaining that when they were kids, they never went to the movies; instead they studied hard and helped out with the chores. It was then when one of the guests stated that the times had changed and that since I was such a good kid, I deserved to go see a movie every now and then.
Suddenly, I saw a ray of hope. Someone other than my brother had decided to be my champion. So I started my begging barrage and making all kinds of promises to get all A's in school and eventually becoming a doctor. And much to my surprise, my parents relented and agreed to take me to a movie the following weekend.
I was ecstatic all week! I even asked the coolest kid in my class to join me for this new and exciting adventure. This was my ticket to the big time. I knew I'll be admitted into the cool kids club, and I may even get to play the part of a hero during our games. All week I wondered with enthusiasm what kind of a movie my father was going to take us to see. Was it going to be an action adventure with John Wayne playing a tough cop, or a Bruce Lee movie where he kicks and punches all the bad guys while sounding like a chicken? Personally, I was hoping to see the latest all-star Hollywood blockbuster movie called “A Bridge Too Far“. It had everything! Good guys versus bad guys, tons of explosions, and even tanks.
The weekend finally arrived after what seemed like an eternity. I called my friend and urged him to come over early so we could leave as quickly as possible. But then I noticed that we started having visitors. My mom's sister, my aunt from my father's side, one of my father's old friends and four of our neighbors just showed up. This was not good! I was ready to go see a movie but we were having unannounced guests visiting us. I wondered why they all chose this particular time to show up and if we were going to be delayed. What if the movie plans were now going to be cancelled? I thought to myself. That would have totally ruined whatever respect or image I had left with my friend from school.
Completely annoyed by this latest development, I walked to the kitchen to talk with my mom. She was busy packing food into a basket as I was busy whining about not being able to go to the movies now that we had company. She then looked at me, smiled and said, “Don't worry, you are going to get to watch your movie and we are all going to go with you”. “What? Oh my god, you must be kidding mom?” “Why do we have to invite the whole neighborhood to go with us?” This was going to suck, I thought to myself. Originally, I though having my old dad take me to a movie was bad enough, but having a whole procession accompanying me was ridiculous.
Just when I thought that it wasn't going to get any worse, I looked at the basket my mom was busy packing. She had put in it a flask of tea, several mugs, sugar cubes, apples, oranges, cucumbers, cookies (naane berenji), pistachios, pumpkin and watermelon seeds and kotlets wrapped in bread (naane sangaki). My heart just stopped! I asked if she was going on a picnic. But she said “Well, what if we get hungry?”
Not only this was my most embarrassing moment, I actually had managed to have a witness from school to observe it all. I was totally in shock and could not speak a word as the procession started walking down the street. My only hope was that the awesomeness of this movie might distract my friend's observation of how un-cool my family was, and save me some ridicule at school.
I knew that “A Bridge Too Far” was being played at Paramount Cinema, but the movie procession was walking in a different direction from where Paramount was. Up till that point, I had mistakenly assumed that I was in charge of choosing the movie for this evening, but I was beginning to have doubts and even worries.
My worst fears came true as we all stopped in front of Asia Cinema. A movie theatre specializing in showing cheap black and white B-rated Iranian musicals. These movies were deemed to be the un-coolest movies by my generation. The plots were always the same. Good guy and the girl sing and dance all the way through the movie, good guy saves the honor of the girl by beating up the bad rich guy and his gang, good guy gets the girl!
Sinking into my sit and feeling like I wanted to disappear off the face of the earth, I watched my mom passing out kotlet sandwiches to her companions. Halfway through the movie, during one of a dozen musical scenes, someone from a back row asked my mom if he could have a cup of tea. Soon she was sharing all kinds of nuts and fruit with total strangers. Suddenly there was a picnic/party in the middle of the theatre with my parents as the hosts. Couple of people actually got up from their seats and started dancing along with the characters in the movie. As my mom kept passing out sandwiches and fruit, I sank even lower in my seat. How was I going to live through the ridicule that was to ensue the next day at school?
Once the movie was over, the well-fed and jubilant procession headed back toward the house. But I was too embarrassed and afraid of looking at my friend. Yet, I could hear him talk with my mom. I think I heard him say, “That was the best kotlet that I have ever tasted”. I looked up and saw a big huge smile on his face. Then he said, “That was so much fun! Can I go to the movies with your family again?”
My father has since passed away, and my mom now lives 1,500 miles away in Northern California. Next week, I'll be taking some much anticipated vacation time to go see my mom. You see, I have been anxiously looking forward to eating her kotlet and watching an old Iranian B-rated movie, with her seating next to me.
Shahrokh Nikfar's The Persian Hour is aired on KYRS FM 95.3 in Spokane, Washington. The show is broadcasted live each Saturday from 12:00 to 1:00 pm and you can catch it on the net at kyrs.org. The program's goals are: to promote education and understanding of Iranian culture and to provide diverse cultural entertainment. This program will usually consist of Iranian music and poetry, commentaries and story telling, interviews with people who have lived in or visited Iran, and on occasion sharing of some favorite recipes or introduction of a new book or a movie