Ever since the revolution of 1978 in Iran, strict laws have been levied against Iranian citizens that affect both the arts and the humanities. One such law bans the public performance of all kinds of Western music, such as pop, heavy metal, jazz, rock and roll and hip-hop. But like any other ban or restriction in history, there are those in Tehran who continue to rise up against the law and risk threats of extreme violence and imprisonment all for a chance to rock.
From director Bahman Ghobadi comes one of the first truly gutsy films in quite some time. No One Knows About Persian Cats provides a brilliant account of the lively and vibrant underground indie rock scene in Tehran.
An unassuming pair Ashkan (Ashkan Koshanejad) and Negar (Negar Shaghaghi) are two young musicians, fresh out of the slammer, who have two main goals in life:
1. Start an epic Indie rock band
2. Get the heck out of Tehran
Negar is sweet and delicate. Ashkan is modest and shy. And yet they embark on a risky adventure to defy the law and pursue their lofty musical goals, a journey marked by nervous enthusiasm and reluctant passion.
The incessantly chatty Nadar (Hamed Behdad) enters the equation and acts as the pair’s guide on their dangerous and seemingly impossible journey. Part-manager and part-shrink, Nadar takes charge and together the three pile onto Nadar’s motorbike and speed around the city of Tehran learning tricks of the trade and meeting fellow defiant rockers and music aficionados.
As fun and interesting as Persian Cats may be, its story is also a shock to the system. It exposes some of the legal and cultural challenges for musicians in Iran and succeeds in leaving the audience a bit wide-eyed to their plight.
Furthermore, in a country where rock and roll is condemned by the government, director Bahman Ghobadi had to get creative with his filming techniques. While most directors only have to worry about critical reviews and rotten tomatoes, Ghobadi faced the likely prospect of jail time if he was ever caught filming.
A notable characteristic of Persian Cats is its semi-scripted nature; Ghobadi’s film is a combination of scripted moments from a screenplay that he wrote with his fiancée, the Iranian-American journalist Roxana Saberi, with vivacious snippets of Tehran’s underground rock scene that captured true Iranian hipsters in their natural environment.
Ghobadi gathered most of his shots within 17 days of scrambling around the city of Tehran — furtively evading police officials the entire time — armed with only a lightweight digital camera (and running shoes).
Some of the indie rockers featured in the film include Take It Easy Hospital, Ashkan Koshanejad and Negar Shaghaghi’s band The Yellow Dogs Band, Rana Farhan, and Hichkas. In showcasing some of the real life fearless local bands in Tehran, Ghobadi gives his audience a true sense of the flavor of Tehran’s underground musical culture.
No One Knows About Persian Cats thrilled at its official screening at the 2009 Cannes Film Festival, where it won the Special Jury prize, and has since won six awards at various other international film festivals. And there is no wonder why. Negar and Ashkan’s journey is a comment upon deviance, love of music and the pursuit of dreams. It’s a vibrant tale that reminds us all to never take music for granted and inspires us to the follow our hearts.