Farewell to Fardin
Death of legendary actor marks end of an era
By Farzan Navab
April 7, 2000
To many in my generation Mohammad Ali Fardin was a legend.Yet to most
Iranian intellectuals he remained an over-rated actor who represented a
commercial cinema that was an embarrassment to our national identity.
Fardin's death in Tehran yesterday no doubt is the end of an era in
Iranian social history, an era which was marked with social innocence on
the one hand and coming of age on the other. Before Fardin, one could argue,
our country simply did not have a commercial cinema. Hollywood and India's
Bolywood filled hours of Iranian national past time. Iranians had to see
foreign melodramas without any sense of identification. Our people would
go to movies for the experience of watching what "Farangies"
would bring them. Iranian dubbers would make American actors "socially
compatible" with Iranian movie goers. Yet the essential experience
of an audience seeing a bit of himself or herself on the screen was none
Fardin changed all that. He portrayed an image that most of his viewers
could simply identify themselves with. Fardin portrayed the man on the
street; he was an ordinary working class man who would stand up to the
powerful elite. He would fall in love with an upper class girl and yet
would not be a lackey of her father.
True, many of these images must be regarded as false representations.
All industrialists were greedy and all workers were honest. Poverty was
highly respected while wealth would bring corruption. These were simplifications
if not falsifications of certain social values. Yet Fardin's contribution
to the development of Iranian cinema was altogether a positive experience.
With limited tools at his disposal and no real national cinematic history
to support him, Fardin's movies reflected the innocence of coming of age
and the flowering of a new kind of popular culture.
At a time when only foreign pictures would bring in box office success,
Fardin's films gave a serious challenge to foreign imports. While many
Iranians would line up to see James Bond movies and still others would
flock in to see Antonioni's "Blow up", Fardin with his "Ganjeh
qaaroon" would offer the under-class an Iranian alternative.
He was instrumental in bringing the cinema to many distant towns that
would have never even contemplate the opportunity to see a moving picture.
In those years (and unfortunately even today) many people in small Iranian
towns, with the help of local mollas, would hinder the coming of such Western
-- and thus "corrupt" -- influences. One could argue that today's
general acceptance of movies in our culture is greatly indebted to Fardin's
popularity and his years of performance on the big screen.
Fardin's cinema had other important social ramifications. He was the
first Iranian male actor to be seen singing and dancing in public on such
a large scale. Sure we did have our folksy theater groups and other forums
in which male actors would sing and dance. But Fardin's acting broke all
social taboos that were part of our social and sexual psyche.
For the first time Iranian women as well as men would have a lovable
hero that could be shared nationally. Fardin was the first contemporary
Iranian man who would brake through such social taboos in our culture.
Iranian men for the first time would witness one of their kinds dance on
the big screen while women audiences would have the opportunity to fantasize
about an Iranian man while sitting next to their own husbands!
Forough Farrokhzad was the first and perhaps the only Iranian poet who
recognized Fardin's popularity, social acceptance and taboo breaking abilities
and referred to "Fardin's Cinema" in one of her poems.
These were just a few quick observations in reaction to hearing the
news of Fardin's death. One day I hope Iranians of all walks of life would
recognize his contribution to their culture and give him his proper place
in Iranian popular history.