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By Darius KADIVAR 


Deepa Mehta and Azar Nafisi Team Up for Miramax and Participant Co-production based on Iranian Author's Best Selling Novel


photocomposition © DK & © & © participant® & © TORONTO STAR/RICK MADONIK (For Deepa Mehta)& pictory



Azar Nafisi's book Reading Lolita in Tehran is about to become a Motion Picture directed  by Oscar Nominee director Deepa Mehta based on a screenplay co-written jointly by the Iranian author Nafisi, and, Canadian Indian director Mehta. The film co produced by ebay™ Co-Founder and entrepreneur turned film producer, Jeff Skoll, will certainly be a highly expected motion picture which will certainly break stereotypes and misconceptions about Iran and Iranians in the lines of Marjane Satrapi's Persepolis or Stephan Caghan's Syriana


Published in 2003, Reading Lolita in Tehran was on the New York Times bestseller list for over one hundred weeks and has since been translated into thirty-two languages. The book is a memoir of the experience of Iranian author and professor Azar Nafisi who returned to Iran during the revolution of 1979 and lived and taught in the Islamic Republic of Iran until her departure in 1997. It narrates her teaching at the University of Tehran after 1979, her refusal to submit to the rule to wear the veil and her subsequent expulsion from the university, life during the Iran-Iraq war, her return to teaching at the University of Allameh Tabatabei (1981), her resignation (1987), the formation of her book club (1995-97), and her decision to ultimately emigrate. Events are interlaced with the stories of book club members consisting of seven of her female students, who met weekly at Nafisi's house to discuss controversial works of Western literature and are interpreted through the books they read.

Russian American novelist Vladimir Nabokov's Lolita From which derives Azar Nafisi's Book title was subject to two famous films respectively by Stanley Kubrick in 1962 and Adriane Lyne in 1998 © ©TIME & photocomposition ©DK



The Book:


Nafisi's account is divided into four sections: "Lolita", "Gatsby", "James", and "Austen".


"Lolita" deals with Nafisi as she resigns from The University of Tehran and starts her private literature class with students Mitra, Nassrin, Azin, Sanaz and Manna. They talk not just about Lolita, but One Thousand and One Nights and Invitation to a Beheading. The main themes are oppression, jailers as revolutionary guards try to assert their authority through certain events such as a vacation gone awry and a runaway convict.


"Gatsby" is set about eleven years before "Lolita" just as the Iranian revolution starts. The reader learns how some Iranians' dreams, including the author's, became shattered through the government's imposition of new rules. Nafisi's student Mr. Nyazi puts the novel on trial, claiming that it condones adultery. Chronologically this is the first part of Nafisi's story. The Great Gatsby and Mike Gold's works are discussed in this part. The reader meets Nassrin.


Nafisi states that the Gatsby chapter is about the American dream, the Iranian dream of revolution and the way it was shattered for her; the "James" chapter is about ambiguity and the way totalitarian mindsets hate ambiguity; and "Austen" is about the choice of women, a woman at the center of the novel saying no to the authority of her parents, society, and welcoming a life of dire poverty in order to make her own choice.


"James" takes place right after "Gatsby", when the Iran-Iraq War begins and Nafisi is expelled from the University of Tehran along with a few other professors. The veil becomes mandatory and she states that the government wants to control the liberal-minded professors. Nafisi meets the man she calls her "magician", seemingly a literary academician who had retired from public life at the time of the revolution. "Daisy Miller" and "Washington Square" are the main texts. Nassrin reappears after spending several years in prison.

Canadian Indian Deepa Mehta is at the Helm

as Director of Reading Lolita in Tehran

© & ©Oscar® & photocomposition ©DK



"Austen" succeeds "Lolita" as Nafisi plans to leave Iran and the girls discuss the issue of marriages, men and sex. The only real flashback (not counting historical background) is into how the girls and Nafisi toyed with the idea of creating a "Dear Jane" society. While Azin deals with an abusive husband and Nassrin plans to leave for England, Nafisi's "magician" reminds her not to blame all of her problems on the Islamic Republic. "Pride and Prejudice", while the main focus, is used more to reinforce themes about blindness and empathy.

The title refers to Vladimir Nabokov's novel, Lolita, a story about a middle aged man who becomes sexually obsessed with a 12 year old pubescent girl. This is an indirect reference to the Islamic state, which took power in 1979 and soon afterward lowered the marriage age for boys and girls.


More on Azar Nafisi:


Azar Nafisi is a Visiting Professor and the director of the Dialogue Project at the Foreign Policy Institute of Johns Hopkins University's School of Advanced International Studies in Washington, DC, where she is a professor of aesthetics, culture, and literature, and teaches courses on the relation between culture and politics. Azar Nafisi held a fellowship at Oxford University, teaching and conducting a series of lectures on culture and the important role of Western literature and culture in Iran after the revolution in 1979.


Reading Lolita in Tehran has been translated in 32 languages, and has won diverse literary awards, including the 2004 Non-fiction Book of the Year Award from Booksense, the Frederic W. Ness Book Award, the 2004 Latifeh Yarsheter Book Award, an achievement award from the American Immigration Law Foundation, as well as being a finalist for the 2004 PEN/Martha Albrand Award for Memoir. In 2006 she won a Persian Golden Lioness Award for literature, presented by the World Academy of Arts, Literature, and Media.

Jeff Skoll switched from co founder of Ebay with French Iranian Pierre Omidyar to Film Producer and enthusiast as Founder Executive of Participant Media Productions.

He credits such productions as The Inconveniant Truth,

The Visitor, Good Night & Good Luck, Syriana, The Kite Runner and the Gandhi Project. As these productions testify, Participant Media focuses  on financing films with a humanitarian message and global vision.  

©ebay™  & © participant® & &

 Amnesty International & photocomposition ©DK



Azar Nafisi conducted workshops in Iran for women students on the relationship between culture and human rights; the material culled from these workshops formed the basis of a new human rights education curriculum. She has lectured and written extensively in English and Persian on the political implications of literature and culture, as well as the human rights of the Iranian women and girls and the important role they play in the process of change for pluralism and an open society in Iran. She has been consulted on issues related to Iran and human rights both by the policy makers and various human rights organizations in the US and elsewhere. She is also involved in the promotion of not just literacy, but of reading books with universal literary value.


Despite much acclaimed critics in the Western and Iranian Diaspora Media, Azar Nafisi's works have regularly been targeted through harsh critics by her fellow compatriot, scholar and film critic Hamid Debashi in what appears according to some critics as more of a personal crusade against the author of Reading Lolita in Tehran than an objective intellectual discourse. (See article)    


Azar Nafisi has written for The New York Times, Washington Post, and The Wall Street Journal. Her cover story, "The Veiled Threat: The Iranian Revolution's Woman Problem" published in The New Republic (February 22, 1999) has been reprinted into several languages. She is the author of Anti-Terra: A Critical Study of Vladimir Nabokov's Novels. She also wrote the new introduction to the Modern Library Classics edition of Tolstoy's Hadji Murad, as well as the introduction to Iraj Pezeshkzad's My Uncle Napoleon, published by Modern Library (April 2006). She has published a children's book (with illustrator Sophie Benini Pietromarchi) BiBi and the Green Voice (in Italy with Adelphi, as BiBi e la voce verde). BiBi and the Green Voice. Azar Nafisi's new book, Things I Have Been Silent About: Memories, a memoir about her mother, will be published in January 2009. She is currently working on a book entitled Republic of the Imagination, which is about the power of literature to liberate minds and peoples. She lives in Washington, D.C.


Reading Lolita in Tehran would offer a unique opportunity for a creative cooperation between the Pre-Revolution and the Post Revolution Iranian Film Communities (*). (Left) Shohreh Aghdashloo is associated to Deepa Mehta's film project while Golshifteh Farahani has become the First Post Revolution Iranian actress to make a Hollywood Film ( See A Body of Lies) ©



Deepa Mehta:


Born in India, on January 1st, 1950, Deepa Mehta received a degree in philosophy from the University of New Delhi. In 1973, Mehta moved to Canada when she married Canadian producer Paul Saltzman. She began her film career writing scripts for children's movies and documentaries, but it wasn't until 1991 that Mehta produced and directed her first feature film, Sam & Me, which won the Camera D'Or at the 1991 Cannes Film Festival.


In 1992, she directed a one-hour episode of the ABC-TV series The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles produced by George Lucas on location in Benares, India. In 1993, Mehta directed her second feature film, Camilla, starring Bridget Fonda and Jessica Tandy. She then directed the final episode of The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles in 1994 on location in Prague and Greece.


Mehta's third feature film, Fire (1996), was also her screenwriting debut. It won Most Popular Canadian Film at the Vancouver International Film Festival, the Silver Rose for Best Feature at the Verona Love Screens Film Festival, the Audience Award at the L.A. Outfest and tied with Fly Away Home for the Air Canada People's Choice Award at the Toronto International Film Festival. At the Chicago International Film Festival, it won two Silver Hugo Awards for Best Direction and Best Actress. In Mannheim, Fire won the Jury Award and in Paris, it was voted Favorite Foreign Film.


Earth (1998), based on Bapsi Sidhwa's critically acclaimed novel, Cracking India, is the second film in Mehta's trilogy of the elements, Fire, Earth and Water. It won the Prix Premiere du Public at the Festival du Film Asiatique de Deauville, France and the Critics' Award at Italy's Schermi d'Amore International Film Festival.



Critically Acclaimed Author of Reading Lolita in Tehran.

photocomposition ©DK



Her biggest box office success so far was the romantic comedy Bollywood/Hollywood (2002), which was nominated for five Genie awards (including Best Picture), winning Best Original Screenplay. Next up for Mehta was another romantic comedy, The Republic of Love (2004), starring Bruce Greenwood and based on a novel by the late Carol Shields. The last part of her trilogy, Water was Oscar® nominated for the 2007 Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film,making it Canada's first non-French-language film to receive a nomination in that category.


Mehta divides her time between Toronto and India.


The Movie Project:


While promoting her latest film Heaven on Earth at the Royal York Hotel last July, Filmmaker Deepa Mehta at a press conference for the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), added a touch of glamour to a media bash that needed some, Mehta revealed, almost as an aside, a future project that could earn her as much international acclaim as Water, nominated for an Oscar as Best Foreign-Language Film.


"My next movie is going to be Reading Lolita in Tehran, for Miramax," Mehta remarked almost casually, as if she didn't really expect anyone to recall that Azar Nafisi's breakthrough memoir happens to be one of the hottest, most prestigious literary properties of the past decade.

"I'm quite thrilled about it. I'm really lucky. It's a book that I've always admired," Mehta said.


It was offered to Mehta as a result of Water - which can be mentioned in the same breath as Satyajit Ray's Pather Panchali, perhaps the greatest movie ever made in India.


A TIFF fan herself, Mehta said she was looking forward to relaxing after her gala debut on Saturday by attending screenings of films she's interested in, including Firaaq, The Stoning of Soraya M. and The Good, The Bad, The Weird.


Nafisi - who attended the premiere of Heaven On Earth at TIFF - will collaborate with Mehta on the screenplay.


"We don't know yet who will play Azar in the movie," says Mehta.


Well whatever the final choice of the cast and crew we wish the Partners on Lolita all the Best in this new Cinematic Adventure ...








Authors Notes:


Participant Media Official Website

Mrs. Azar Nafisi is Represented by Steven Barclay Agency and her Official Website
(*) Noor Film Festival: Iranian Diaspora in Hollywood Official Website


Books by Azar Nafisi:


Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books

Things I've Been Silent About: Memories


Introductions/Preface by Azar Nafisi:


My Uncle Napoleon: A Novel by Iraj Pezeshkzad and Translation by Dick Davis

The Shahnameh of Ferdowsi: The Persian Book of Kings by  Abolqasem Ferdowsi and Translation by Dick Davis


Books by or on Vladimir Nabokov:


Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov

Vladimir Nabokov: The Russian Years by Brian Boyd

Vladimir Nabokov: The American Years by Brian Boyd

Films based on Nabokov's Lolita (**):


Stanley Kubrick's Lolita (1962) Starring James Mason, Shelley Winters, Sue Lyon, and Gary Cockrell (DVD)

Adrian Lynn's Lolita (1998) Starring Jeremy Irons, Melanie Griffith and Dominique Swain (DVD)


Recommended Watching:


Azar Nafisi on Charlie Rose 2003 (youtube) also available on DVD
Deepa Mehta on Charlie Rose is interviewed by Salman Rushdie (Guest Host in replacement of Mr. Rose) on her movie Water (youtube)


Recommended Readings:

Noor Film Festival Lights Your Way to Hollywood by Darius KADIVAR

IMAGINE TEHRAN !:Brian Grazer and Ron Howard option Richard Regen's spec script on Love Amidst Iranian Revolution by Darius KADIVAR
George Clooney's Great Escape! by Darius KADIVAR

Tehran Mon Amour By Darius KADIVAR
Film review of Franco-Soviet Film " Tegeran '43 " aka " Tehran 43 " by Darius KADIVAR 
An Axis of Joy:Monika Jalili & Noorsaaz Band Triumph in Paris  by Darius KADIVAR

Iranian Pioneers Of The French New Wave Cinema by Darius KADIVAR

Prisoner of Conscience: Akbar Ganji and Costa Gavras' Confession by Darius KADIVAR
Syriana Breaks Iranian Stereotypes by Darius KADIVAR
A Director's Cut: Cyrus Nowrasteh film The Stoning of Soraya M. By Darius KADIVAR
Mona's Dream by Darius KADIVAR
Banned Hollywood Dream: Iranian actress Golshifteh Farahani troubled over a Body of Lies By Darius KADIVAR

The House of Saddam by Darius KADIVAR

Eye of the Tiger and the Persepolis Generation By Darius KADIVAR
MAGIC IN THE MAKING: Marjane Satrapi's Cinephilic Choice for Persepolis Cast by Darius KADIVAR



About the Author:
Darius KADIVAR is a Freelance Journalist, Film Historian, and Media Consultant. He is also contributes to
OCPC Magazine in LA/US and to the London Based IC Publications The Middle East Magazine and Persian Heritage Magazine.

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