0401 GMT September 24, 2022
We also know that after Alexander’s invasion of Iran, performances of Greek plays were held well into Parthian times. Dramatized presentations of the epic stories and legends of ancient Iran were performed by bards and storytellers (naqqals) in Parthian, Sassanid, and early Islamic times, and later on the Shia passion play (ta’zieh) became a well-established form of dramatic presentation. The Turks and Mongols also brought some customs of popular drama and public performances such as shadow-puppet plays to Iran. Iranian rulers often patronized jesters, entertainers, and other performers for the amusement of the court elites. For ordinary people, the bazaars and public squares were places where jugglers, magicians, comedians, storytellers, and entertainers offered their dramatic performances to the public.
In addition to ta’zieh and naqqali, traditional forms of dramatic performance include those known as roohozi and siah bazi, pardeh dari, and kheymeh shab bazi. Roohozi is a comic type of folk drama similar to commedia dell’arte but with rapid verbal rather than physical humor. It is often performed at weddings and at teahouses. It is called roohozi or “over the pool” because it is typically performed on a board placed over the pool commonly found in the yard of a Persian home. Roohozi usually involves several players engaging in music and song. The dialogue is colloquial and filled with satirical impersonations of local people and events. The play often involves participation by, or exchanges with, the spectators.
Pardeh dari is performed by a single narrator who chants a narrative, using a screen with pictures as a prop to illustrate the story he is telling. This is somewhat similar to naqqali except that the subjects of the story are usually of a religious nature. Kheimeh shab bazi is basically puppet theater, performed with glove dolls or marionettes.
Cinema in Iran has its origins in the foibles of court entertainment in the late 19th and early 20th century. In 1900, the Qajar king, Mozaffareddin Shah, went to France for a state visit. While there, he became fascinated with the camera and what it could do. He ordered his photographer, Mirza Ebrahim Akkasbashi, to buy a cinematograph. Later, using the newly acquired equipment, Mirza Ebrahim documented the presence of Mozaffareddin Shah at a ceremony in Belgium. This documentary is the first film made by an Iranian. Mirza Ebrahim who brought his camera equipment back to Iran, and the king set up a demonstration for the court.
The king also had a movie made of court eunuchs playing with each other in the palace courtyard. Film had become a part of court entertainment. The various films made by Mirza Ebrahim probably represent the first ethnographic footage taken in the history of Iranian film.
Films made during the Qajar Period may be divided into three categories:
Documentation of court ceremonies, social-cultural scenes around the capital, and scripted action films.
Royal and religious ceremonies were often filmed, and the films would later be shown at weddings of members of the elite, at family gatherings, or at court parties. Also, a number of documentaries were produced in this period.
The above is a lightly edited version of a chapter titled ‘Drama and Cinema’ from a book named ‘Culture and Customs of Iran’ written by Elton L. Daniel and Ali Akbar Mahdi, published by Greenwood Press.