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"Contraband" movies & CDs make us forget real issues

October 10, 2000
The Iranian

Haven't seen the latest movie? The one your cousin who lives in the States told you about? No problem. Just ask. Mornings, evenings or even late at night. You can get anything you want from these guys. Some own newspaper kiosks and just as you are about to pay them for a magazine they'll say, " I've got a lot more stuff down here you might want to look at. I've also got movies and some pretty cool music videos. I've even got Kourosh's new song." "No thanks," I reply and I leave wondering: who in the world is Kourosh?

Some sell cigars, some toys, and others don't do anything except stand in a corner on the sidewalk and say: "New movies, CDs, music videos. . ." Some will even come to your door every week with the latest if you pay them a little more. And they don't just sell "bad" American movies. They have everything including Turkish and Indian movies and even Iranian ones which are currently showing in theaters.

Well, I'm very very curious. I finally risk danger and ask one to show me what he has. He takes me down into a bookstore, yells something to the salesman and opens a door leading into a room full of boxes. He opens one.

"These are the Iranian movies," he says. " I've got everything. 'Hemlock', 'The Red Ribbon', 'The Changed Man', 'Sheida', 'Motevaled-e Mah-e Mehr', . . ."

"Which one is the most expensive?" I ask.

"'Motevaled-e Mah-e Mehr' since it's new and Foroutan stars in it."

Takes a while for me to figure out who Foroutan is. The guy goes on, "I sell about 12 every day but my the top selling one is 'The Cell' and 'Mission Impossible 2'."

Where in the world has he gotten those from?

"We have our connections," he says. They've all been taped with a cam-corder inside the theater, he adds. The pictures on the cases have Chinese writings on them. I ask him about that.

"No, no. They don't speak Chinese. No one will buy them from me that way. I'll lose all my regular customers. They've got Chinese subtitles."

This makes me guess that they probably have a deal with a few movie theaters in Hong Kong or China. Places where getting this stuff would be A LOT easier than in Europe or North America.

It seems as if he wants to name every single thing he has. "'Arous-e atash', 'Hemlock' and 'Motevaled-e Mah-e Mehr' are 5000 tomans. I've got CDs for 12,000. And I also have the Berlin Conference everyone's talking about. The 4-hour version is 20,000 tomans; if you want the part where the lady dances it will be 25,000 and if you also want the part where another lady strips her clothes off, that's 30,000. Now what do you want?"

I pick out a cheap tape by some singer with a weird name. But before I hand over the money, he starts over again. "That's it? Hey lady, don't you want 'The Matrix', 'American Beauty'? I've even got an old movie starring Behrouz Vosoughi and Googoosh."

I've been living in Tehran for a while now but it seems as if I've been missing out on a lot that's been happening in the rest of the world. He tells me about a bunch of "new movies" he's just brought in. One of them includes actors with names I've ever heard. "Who are they?" I ask. He stares at me as if he's seen a Martian. "You don't KNOW the Turkish movie stars?" Sadly, I'm one of those unfortunate, very very unlucky people who just hasn't had the pleasure of getting to know these outstanding, wonderful actors. I guess I should jump off a building, right? Not.

Indian songs and movies also seem to be popular here. The man goes over the names. They all seem to have a "khan" at the end. He proudly holds up a CD and tells me that this something khan "sounds exactly like that American singer. . . I don't remember his name right now but you won't find this CD anywhere else. I guarantee it." What kind of a person would listen to some loser trying to imitate Americans? Many, I find out later. And I figure I'm being too harsh. I prefer Mozart, Beethoven or Schubert, Payvar and Maroofi, and The Beatles once or twice a year. That make me practically a loser in the eyes of plenty of people my age.

The man talks on and on. Probably sales haven't been good this week and he's determined to make a little money today. Though as I'm standing there listening to him blabber away, two other men keep bringing in customers. Regulars it seems. One boy asks for "Motevaled-e Mah-e Mehr". I can't help it, I have to ask .

"You can see that in movie theaters right now for 600 tomans. Why are you buying it here?"

The salesman looks as if he wants to punch me in the face. The boy answers me anyways. "Oh, I hate Iranian movies. But I've heard a lot about this one. All my buddies come over with their girlfriends on Thursdays. We usually see an American movie but we'll have to settle for an Iranian one this week."

Others - mostly men and women aged between 15 and 40 - come in to buy albums and music videos by Turkish, Indian or American singers. I don't see him selling many movies. I finally manage to get out of there somehow.

But it's interesting to see that this network sure works FAST. Exactly the day after Googoosh's concert in Toronto these guys were holding CDs and cassettes of hers all over the city offering people Googoosh's new album. And it's amazing to see the range of people who buy them. Girls pancaked in makeup and chadori ones alike. Well, at least they have something in common.

Some believe this whole business is being supported by the Ministry of Culture (ershad). Though I doubt that. No one's blind. The dealers are easy to catch. If the police can spot a girl with too much make up and force her to wipe it off, getting the dealers off the streets shouldn't be that hard.

I don't watch any TV but I've never heard about shows like Entertainment Tonight or Extra. I've never seen real tabloids or gossip columns either. But we have the Iranian versions. As newspapers that write about political and social problems are closed down, those that tell us what Googoosh wore at her third concert, what Behrouz Vosoughi ate for lunch, which one of the popular actors got married and which one bought a car, are increasing by the minute. They've got huge centerfolds of Elvis Presley, Clark Gable, Bryan Adams, that monkey boy Leonardo DiCaprio and even the long gone Kurt Cobain. What's the story?

And for those who've been been forced to listen to American pop singers all their lives without understanding a word, there's a new solution: Ashkmehr, "The eastern boys", Mani something and even for the first time an all-girl band named "Arian", although the salesman at the store told me that a boy does the actual singing. Their albums are available everywhere, as legal to own as a pair of basketball shoes.

We don't have political freedom? People are going hungry? The number of drug addicts and homeless children are on the rise? Who cares. As long as we're kept busy with Ashkmehr, something khan and Turkish music videos, there are no problems, really. Those who think there are shortcomings are definitely out of their minds. What kind of a fool could possibly want more?

Najmeh Fakhraie is a 17-year-old student in Tehran.

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