Originally Published Online in 2005
The evidences indicate that Muzzafar-e-Din Shah, the fifth Shah of the Qajar dynasty, during his visit to Paris in 1900 saw moving pictures, liked them, and ordered Ebrahim Khan Akasbashi (EKA), his official photographer, to purchase motion picture equipments. It is documented that the first pioneer of the era of film making in Iran is EKA who filmed the ritual activities, such as various royal and religious ceremonies, which were mostly screened in the royal palaces. And the screenings were not carried out equally for both sexes. Special arrangements were in fact made for women who had to see early moving pictures at segregated screening sessions. Another film maker in the same period is Mandy Russi Khan, originally from Russia. He filmed Moharram mourning ceremonies (processed in Russia and not shown in Iran) and Muzzafar-e-Din Shah's coronation ceremonies.
The first silent feature movie, Abi-o-Rabi, was not made until 1930, when Evans Ohanian emigrated back to Iran from Russia where he had spent most of his life and had studied cinema at the Cinema Academy of Moscow. Abi-o-Rabi, a 35 mm, black and white, a comedy with no women on the cast or the crew, was the adventures of two men, one tall and one short, and based on a Danish comedy series. It was shown in 1930 in Cinema Mayak, where it was well received. However, no copy of this film is known to exist.
The history of the sound movie production can be traced back to the early 1930s. The very first one or the Lor Girl (Dokhtar-e-Lor) was released in two Tehran cinemas, Mayak and Sepah in 1934. This was one among the very first of the several Iranian movies made. The names of male and female characters in the Lor Girl were Ja’afar and Golnar respectively and people mostly liked to recall this film as “Ja’afar-o-Golnar”. The story of the film was based on a comparison between the state of security in Iran at the end of the Qajar dynasty and during Reza Shah's period. The shooting of the film by the Imperial Film Company (IFC) of Bombay started in April 1932, took seven months to complete, in a place called Ghamoor on the outskirts of the city of Bombay, India.
The Lor Girl’s actor and scriptwriter, Abdulhossein Sepanta, was a poet and a writer, and he has been acknowledged as the father of Iranian sound movies. The financial success of the film encouraged the IFC and Sepanta to produce other Iranian films in India. In1935, they produced many movies such as Ferdowsi (the life story of the most celebrated epic poet of Iran), Shirin-o-Farhaad (an Iranian classic love story), and Black Eyes (the story of Nader Shah's invasion to India). Later in 1937, they also produced Laili-o-Majnoon, an eastern love story similar to western story of Romeo and Juliet. Upon the completion of the last film, Sepanta returned to Iran, hoping to continue his film-making activities in his home country. But various obstructions and lack of financial support by the government or the private sector, forced him to leave movie industry. In 1937, Sepanta desperately joined the wool industry in Esfahan where he worked as a simple officer in the administration department of one of the factories there. . He started the “Sepanta” newspaper in 1943 in Esfahan (a central city of Iran), and in 1955 he became the Iranian assistant of the United States Aid Program in Esfahan. Throughout his life (1907 in Tehran to 1969 in Esfahan) he wrote and translated eighteen books and made five Iranian feature films.
The Lor Girl’s actress, Ruhangeez Saami-Nejad, was an Iranian housewife living in India at the time. Ruhangeez was originally from Kerman, a province in southeast Iran. She had no experience to perform as a movie star. She was most likely called upon the job because Sepanta did not find any Persian speaking actress in India. She was also a good choice since her husband was working in IFC in Bombay. Since Ruhangeez used to speak Persian with a very strong Kermani dialect, Sepanta even edited the story of the film as the life of a Kermani girl, Golnaar, who lost her parents and immigrated to Lorestan, a western province in Iran. Golnaar needed to survive and she had to work as a dancer in a cabaret or nightclub in Lorestan. Ruhangeez immigrated back to Iran in 1937 after she played a very short role in Shirin-o-Farhaad. She settled down in Tehran and she no longer followed a career as a movie star. At the time, many Iranian families were regrettably against the females’ presence in the movies, and no actress was socially welcomed. Ruhangeez was even forced to change her whole name to Sedigheh Damawandi in order to obtain a better reputation and to secure herself in public. She also separated from her husband and shortly after she passed away in Tehran. The exact dates of her birth and death are unknown.
Currently, there are many men and women who are affiliated with the movie industry in Iran. However, about one third of the four thousand people who have appeared in Iranian films in leading and supporting roles in the past 60 years or so, are women. And despite the fact that the Iranian Movie Industry faces strict restrictions, the Iranian Movies and the Iranian-born Movie Stars have been consistently shining in international arenas over the recent years.
Manouchehr Saadat Noury. PhD
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