Monday, 8 March 2010

'Virgin' obsession of Iran

The sixth Asian Women’s Film Festival 2010 in the Indian capital New Delhi gave a unique peek into women’s world.

The films directed and produced by women gave their take on life, highlighted the issues affecting them or just showed how they see the world around them.

“We have been holding the festival around the International Women’s Day for the past six years. The festival celebrates the creative aspects of women and shows a range of work done by them. It’s an opportunity to see the world through their eyes and witness the events around them,” says Jai Chandiram, Festival Director

About 18 films from India, China, Malaysia, Iran, Sri Lanka, South Korea and Bangladesh were screened in the three-day festival which began on Saturday (March 6). While some of the films tickled funny bones, others were compelling and brought out the harsh reality of life in various societies.

“Virgin” by Taahereh Hassanzadeh draws attention to a conservative convention in Iran which requires women to produce a certificate of virginity before marriage. The certificate has to be issued by a qualified doctor after medically examining the girl.

Hassanzadeh, a film maker in Tehran, highlights the age-old ‘painful’ cultural/religious norm at length through women who are facing legal battles over the accusation of not being virgin before marriage.

It deals with the women and their families’ ordeal, the social stigma attached with it and how it isolates them, ruins their self prestige and virtually makes them socially ‘redundant’.

The documentary-film gives versions of the men and their families who accuse their wives or fiancés of not being virgin or disregarding the medical certificates produced by them as fake.

She questions the need of having such a certificate in modern society, asks why women only should be subjected to this humiliating experience and quizzes why no questions are asked to men who have a fling of affairs before marriage but still want a much younger and a virgin girl.

This is a sensitive subject in Iran and daring to speak on it is quite bold.

Critics applauded Hassanzadeh’s efforts to bring up the issue and start a debate on it. “I liked it very much. To talk about such an issue in a conservative society is quite bold. It really holds your attention. It’s well shot and well edited,” says Aruna Vasudevan, a veteran film critique.

The film opens with a silhouette of the flutter of burqa (veil) and abaya (long cloak worn by ladies), involves interviews of families engaged in ‘virgin’ disputes, government officers hearing the cases, opinions of lawyers and clerics and views of young boys and girls on the topic.

“It’s a bit verbose. People are talking all through the film with no breathers at all. But I guess, she had no choice,” says film critic BB Nagpal, adding, “It needs a lot of guts to take up such an issue in Iran. I think it’s brave of families to come up in front of the camera and speak up.”

While Iran seems to be virgin-manic, the issue is irrelevant in many societies.

Judy Frater, producer of the film ‘Tankko Bole Chee (The Stitches Speak) says “I never knew the issue could be so important to the level of absurdity in a society. I’m glad someone tried to bring it out.”

Today was the last day of the festival, which for the first time has opened up to the film entries made by non-Asians but deals with Asian topics.

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