This past July in Tehran, I went to see Tehran Has No More Pomegranates at Azadi Cinema, which was excellent. As I walked out of the theater, I realized that my cellphone had dropped out of my pocket. When I went back inside to find it, the ticket collector had me sit in the back of the theater while he went off in search of my phone. Meanwhile, another movie had started. It was called Whatever You Want.
In the opening scene, a mid-aged man in his 50s is driving a cab in the streets of Tehran. A girl in skimpy hijab (with loudly-dyed blonde hair tucked under a scarf) hails the cab. The cab stops. Unexpectedly for us (and the driver), she takes the seat next to him, rather than the one in the back, as decorum dictates.
The man turns to her: “Where are you headed, Miss?”
“Wherever you wish to take me,” she replies coyly.
Whoa! Hold it right here, I say to myself. I am in Tehran and this is the year 2009. Ershad, the Islamic Republic’s Ministry of Guidance and Culture, has never been so harsh on Iranian artists and writers in 20 years. Yet here we are with this B-rate “comedy” so unbelievably explicitly insinuating sex and prostitution, and making it look fun too. I brace myself.
The cab driver turns to the camera and gives the audience the sleaziest of winks.
The movie cuts to the next scene, indoors. We are inside a small, not-regularly-inhabited but furnished and slightly messy apartment. The door is opened and our couple walk in. The man is holding two plastic bags full of chips, yogurt, soft drinks, pretzels — snacks conspicuously associated with drinking alcohol in Tehran. He might as well have brought two bottles of Absolut Vodka with him. (But then again, we all know they are in the fridge.)
He puts the bags on the kitchen table.
“Sorry for the mess,” the man says. From this we are meant to construe that this is not our hero’s first time bringing blonde beauties to this apartment in the middle of a working day. I am impressed. We all should be.
The girl is not flustered at all. “No worries, honey,” she says.
The man locks the apartment door and announces assertively but cautiously (if that kind of tone is possible, it is only possible in Farsi): “We are not going anywhere for the next 48 hours!”
“Only 48 hours? Is that all?”
“No, my dear! We will stay as long as you want.” The sentence echoes the movie’s theme for the second time in five minutes. Everything about this movie is loud, obnoxious, and obvious.
I am speechless. I have never witnessed such a scene in a cinema of the Islamic Republic. Never. But even bigger surprises are to come.
The girl looks around and casually asks: “So which one’s your bedroom?”
The man is beside himself with joy. Hardly able to contain his excitement, he points to somewhere outside the camera frame. The girl turns around, looks at the man, gives the subtlest hint of a sniff and asks: “Honey, do you want to take a shower first?”
I cannot believe my eyes. I look around and see families among the audience — children of all ages sitting next to their parents — hypnotized by the magic of the silver screen. They are not even blinking. I am reminded that Ershad is an all-or-nothing system. Either everybody gets to watch the film, or no one can. But what is it here in this movie that is supposed to entertain these children? One wonders.
The girl shuts the door and exits the frame. Meanwhile, the man has started getting naked in full view as if his life depends on taking a shower as quickly as possible. Off go the jacket and the shirt on the sofa and the man exits the frame towards the bathroom. We are left with a view of the sofa now receiving the man’s underwear.
At this point, the same coincidence that brought me back to this movie theater beckons me out. I have my cellphone back and friends are waiting. Outside, the even more exciting and forbidding streets of Tehran awaited.
This article was first published by Tehran Bureau on 6 April 2010; it is reproduced here for non-profit educational purposes.