Hit movie pulled from Iran's theaters

The Iranian authorities have banned a wildly popular satirical film that takes on rampant corruption and nepotism in the country.

al-monitor A still image from the trailer for "Rahman 1400," uploaded March 15, 2019. Photo by YouTube/Cinema Ticket.

Apr 16, 2019

A supervisory body affiliated with Iran's Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance has imposed a sudden ban on "Rahman 1400," a satirical movie that has achieved extraordinary box office success in the past few weeks. The decision was made after the ministry found the movie in breach of common censorship rules that include strict script-vetting procedures. 

In a series of witty scenes and with a sharp critical tone, the movie shines a spotlight on the consequences of nepotism, embezzlement and the concentration of wealth in the hands of well-connected Iranian elites who manage to dodge the long arm of the law.

Although the Ministry of Culture has not re-distributed an edited version, it is widely believed that its censored version would cut what the authorities would deem sexually explicit and obscene content. According to supporters, however, the move is merely a pressure tool to silence genuine political and social criticism.

Following the Islamic Revolution in 1979, Iran's Ministry of Culture was tasked with aligning cultural products with Islamic principles and ensuring that their form and content do not send "counter-revolutionary" messages. But depending on whether it is Reformists or conservatives who hold office, censorship practices have varied.

During its month of public screening, "Rahman 1400" bagged 220,323 billion rials ($5.25 million) at 145 theaters nationwide. The movie stars a cast of Iran's highest-paid celebrities, including popular actors Mehran Modiri and Mohammad Reza Golzar. The prolific career of director Manouchehr Hadi includes many biting satirical works. Most recently, he has also been making widely distributed straight-to-DVD soap operas. In an Instagram post, Hadi argued that the ban was issued from "somewhere else" and that the Ministry of Culture was only an executor with no authority, suggesting that pressure from hard-liners was behind the move.

The movie's producer also claimed that the movie as screened had been authorized by the ministry. In a live video message streamed on Instagram, he stated that he could not grasp the logic behind the ban.

The ruling's timing has raised multiple questions including speculation that it may have come to whet audience appetites for an eventual resumption in screening.

Raja News, an ultraconservative outlet voicing the views of Iran's hard-liners and an unyielding critic of President Hassan Rouhani's government, defended the ban while also criticizing the ministry. Slamming the Ministry of Culture for approving movies with "vulgar and immoral content," Raja News maintained that the ministry officials "must be held accountable" so as to discourage similar productions in the future: "Let’s hope that the ban is not lifted, because otherwise the theory that the original decision was a trick to further promote the movie will gain more ground."

While uncertainty still surrounds the ban, supporters of the film contend that such decisions will only frustrate moviegoers, who are thirsty for content that transcends common tropes and clichés. There are nevertheless opponents who hold the view that "Rahman 1400" is no work of art. "The director holds the mistaken assumption that through employing old and lackluster jokes about corruption and money laundering … and a series of farcical 18+ moments, he can leave the audience pleased," stated a critique in the moderate Shahrvand.

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