By Shreyasi Deb
On a moist work evening in Mumbai, on my way home I decided to drop by at the mall next door without any great purpose. I walked to the multiplex area and while I was wondering how ‘The Vagina Monologues’ would feel in Hindi (our emotions have language?) I hit upon the wonderful poster for ‘Persepolis’ almost hiding apologetically behind its blatantly colorful cousins which spoke of movies I’d turn in my grave to watch.
“I must do this” I said and soon I went in (my stomach sorted with a quick sub and a quicker coffee) expecting a ‘private viewing’ of the movie on a weekday late evening show. The theater didn’t have a single soul (although a dozen odd co-viewers did walk in after a while) and what began is a great show about life.
Persepolis is based on a graphic novel( or comic as we call them). An autobiographical account of author Marjane Satrapi's childhood, the comic is inked in black and white and tells of her coming of age in the turbulent times of the Iranian revolution. The movie, animated to resemble the book, is co-directed by the author.
The fall of the Shah of Iran, the rise of the fundamentalists, the subsequent social oppression, her family’s communist beliefs and then the ‘meaningless’ war between Iraq and Iran—all contribute to Marjane(Marji)'s growth as a person.The powerful black and white animation is effective in portraying the strong expressions and emotions are so strong. I doubt if human actors could have portrayed them.
For me, Persepolis is a story of universal experiences and fears, of love, betrayal and eternal bonds. At the end, I came to fall in love with Marji and her grandmother.
There are numerous questions that Marjane Satrapi and her tale raised in me. I have been brought up in a free land and in an overtly libertarian family so I have always taken my freedom and views for being granted but this narrative gravely reminded me of all the women who get violated emotionally and physically, every moment, be it in Afghanistan under the Taliban regime or behind the closed doors of our apparently open societies.
Like Marji asks in the movie, I wonder, why is it that women have to bear the cross of decency all the time? What about indecent men? What happens to an outspoken, free thinking, non-conformist woman in a land ruled by male fanatics?
The story also touches on the price that a person has to pay for his/her beliefs. “I-n-t-e-g-r-i-t-y” –as grandma asks Marji to have–do we have a place for that in our lives? Or does absolute power first seduce us and then intoxicate us to become sub-human?
The other question which haunted me is whether we remain sensitive and unbiased to the circumstances of people in other cultures? I was moved by Marji’s hurt and anger when she finds that foreigners misrepresent her country and its customs and stereotype her negatively. For her friends’ world outside Iran, freedom is so easy and life, so superficial. After coming to the west, Marji feels that she is losing her identity till one day she is able to tell the Parisian taxi driver that she comes from Iran.
The silver lining of this poignant film and life story is the relationship between Marji and her grandmother. The grandmother is a wonderful friend and a sensitive guide to the girl and exhibits great dignity and strength of character, yet her grandmotherly love overflows to touch the viewers. One of my favorite lines from the grandmother is “Fear lulls our minds to sleep.”
When Marji calls on her grandmother shaken at the failure of her marriage and breaks down, grandma with a straight face says that she was shocked because she thought that somebody has died. Her reaction? “The first marriage is practice for the next one”. I couldn’t, but, chuckle at this one. She also opines “In this life you'll meet a lot of jerks. If they hurt you, tell yourself that it's their own stupidity that makes them act that way. That will keep you from responding to their meanness. There's nothing worse in this world than bitterness and revenge. Hold your head up and stay true to yourself.”
Persepolis will always stay with me for its ending if not for anything else. The movie ended with the lilting voice of young Marji asking her grandmother how she smelled so nice all the time. While the grandma shared her secret, few of her jasmines fell on us. I smelled good too.
Directed by Vincent Paronnaud and Marjane Satrapi
Winner of the Jury prize at the 2007 Cannes Film festival
My rating : 4.5 out of 5.
Shreyasi Deb is a human resources professional. She lives and works in Mumbai.