Tuesday, May 25, 2004

Marmulak (Lizard)

One of our stops on our travels around Iran was Khorramabad. We stopped there to visit the castle-like structure that dominates its skyline. From our short visit, I can say that Khorramabad is kind of a strange place. It is a city dominated by men. The women you do see mainly wear chadors or simple black. Even beige seems colorful. On the other hand, under the women's chadors, you can catch a glimpse of sequins, flowers, and bright, bright colors. According to our Iranian friends, most of the men from Khorramabad were sepa, pasdaran, or basigi. This means they were either volunteers or in the elite forces. This is a religious city where people take their daily prayers seriously. I say this, because as we were ascending into the castle we heard a group of men joking with each other. The older men were teasing a young man about his decision to study to become a "marmulak." Everyone, especially the young man, laughed. Later, when we were walking on the streets, we heard "Marmulak!" from a cab filled with young men. The appellation was directed at the cleric who was walking nearby.

Marmulak is the Persian word for lizard. It is also, by far, the most popular movie in Iran. It is Iran's Shrek 2. Everyone we meet in Iran is talking about the movie. "I had to wait 2 hours for a ticket," one of our young friends told us. "But it was great. The best movie of the year. No doubt."

From what I can gather, Marmulak is a series of comic sketches that poke fun at Iran's clerics. K and I tried to see it last week, but the line for tickets stretched several blocks. Last week was supposed to be the last night of the movie. The government belatedly decided to pull it from the theaters. "It is a symbolic gesture," K's nephew told me. If Khorramabadis are making jokes at the expense of the clerics, the film has already permeated every level of society.

You can get bootleg copies of the film at stores all over Iran. Some are even selling the uncensored version, which many of the people we spoke with saw. "It has 20 more minutes of uncensored comedy," K's brother told us. "You have to see it."

One should not make the mistake of thinking that just because Iranians are laughing at their clerics that they have lost their faith in Islam. Praise for the film has come from some of our most religious friends. K's sister, who is a believer, loved the movie. Iranians, I think, have lost faith in their clerical elite and in the utopian vision of an Islamic society. All well and good I think.

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