The Nights of Barareh
By MortazaviBlog on Dec 22, 2005
Since last September, I've had a satellite box that receives free TV broadcasts from the Middle East, and on one of the channels, directly from Iran, every night there is a series broadcast in Persian with English subtitles called, shabha-ye barareh, or in translation, The Nights of Barareh.
Reuters' review of the series estimates the number of viewers in Iran at 50 million but it exaggerates the series' political dimension as opposed to its critique of social psychology. The Reuters' report says that many Iranians interpret the series to be a reflection of Iran today. I think this is somewhat unfair, and the real reason many Iranians view the series this way is because there are many who see some of their own selves (including their petty desires, ambitions and attempts to undermine institutions) reflected in the multitude of characters developed through the series as it evolves, with new characters being added with time, the logical conclusion being a new imaginary city, a new imaginary country and a new imaginary, parallel world.
What makes the show amazing relies as much on its social critique as it does on its level of artistic creativity displayed by director and actor Mehran Modiri and his collaborators.
Modiri's work provides a critique of the individual and family dynamics even more than it expounds on social or governmental institutions. Its main force and argument relies on the force of self-deception as the ultimate ill that exists at the level of every individual, a force that only a single man on the show resists, and by so resisting it whenever practical, he enlivens our own power to escape our own self-deception. So, if you have ever deceived yourself (who has not?) and then woken up from self-deception, the series will appeal to you.
There are other features in the series that make it appealing for a non-Iranian, Persian-speaking audience. The totally made-up Persian accent can be understood even by those, like my daughters and wife, who speak Persian as their second language. In fact, it is a good exercise in listening comprehension.
The actual Barareh culture, which is a totally imaginary culture evolving over several different series in Iran over the last five years, cultimating in the Nights of Barareh, incorporates odd rules and rituals that exist in no real place on earth. Even the dialect of Persian spoken in the village of Barareh has been made up.
Rules and rituals of farming, work, medice, marriage, authority and even the game of chess are re-written in Barareh. Chess pieces are knocked off with shoes and other artifacts while the players use knives and swords to attack the board. The winner is often the one who most clearly upsets the board. At the end of the game, both sides smile, with the loser accepting defeat with a broader smile.
Barareh is an imaginary place with imaginary, farcical rules and rituals, with all the details accumulated over several years by a group of artists who have worked hard to create the surrealism it carries—anmagination and surrealism that can go far to catch the viewers off guard and make them laugh the tensions away.
(This evening my daughter pointed me to the series' fan club, chat-room, iPod mp3 downloads and more.)