Haji Agha, the Movie Actor

English Title: Haji Agha, the Movie Actor

Original Title: Haji Agha, Actore Cinama

Country of Origin: Iran

Studio: Perse Film (Samet)

Director: Ovanes Ohanians

Producer(s): Ovanes Ohanians, Maghasedzadeh Foroozin , Habibollah Morad

Screenplay: Ovanes Ohanians

Cinematographer: Paolo Potomkin

Editor: Ovanes Ohanians

Runtime: 1933 minutes

Starring/Cast: Habibollah Morad, Zema Ohanians, Asia Qostanian, Abbas Khan Tahbaz

Year: 1933

Volume: Iranian

Synopsis:
A director (played by Ohanians himself) looks for a subject for his movie and someone suggests that he films Haji Agha secretly. Haji is very rich and frowns upon cinema. Haji's daughter, son-in-law, and servant help the director with the film as well. Haji's watch gets lost, and he suspects his servant. Haji and his son-in-law start chasing him. At first, they tail him to the dentist's, and then they meet a fakir who claims he can find the lost watch. He does some strange things. The director photographs Haji all the time. Then Haji watches the film and becomes aware of the true merits of cinema. One of the most exciting scenes of this movie was filmed at Pars Café in Laleh Zar Avenue.


Critique:
Ovanes Ohanians’ (also known as Oganians) second silent film Haji Agha, the Movie Actor which he made after the success of Abi and Rabi/Abi va Rabi (1930), was the first Iranian film that reflected the clash between tradition and modernity in Iranian society in the early 1930s. The film which placed ironic stress on the rise of cinema as a modern media blossoming within the fold of Iran’s traditional society faced the cinema-goers, especially the intellectuals, for the first time with a serious and fundamental question: How could cinema, as a modern technological media, grow in a closed and traditional society? How has the dominant fanatic, dogmatic, and backward mentality dealt with cinema and to what extent will it tolerate and approve of it? By astutely portraying this pivotal contradiction – namely the clash of the traditional mindset with cinema – Haji Agha, the Movie Actor consciously and illuminatingly defended cinema and offered a logical and clear answer to the questions posed above. Ohanians set a trend in this film by employing an actress for the first time ever in Iran. And this happened in a society which was on the verge of modernization and disposal of the hijab but which still faced huge opposition towards these developments.
Ironically, Ohanians, the first representative of professional cinema and the founder of cinema in Iran was a foreigner (an Armenian Russian immigrant) who was not even a Muslim in a country with a majority Muslim population. Highly infatuated with the modern world, he went to an underdeveloped and traditional country. He even appeared to be in tune with the traditional view that cinema was a blasphemous phenomenon that wanted to disrupt everything. Haji Agha, the Movie Actor laid the foundation of critical reflection in Iranian cinema. This film, that marked the onset of an intellectual approach towards cinema, did not do well at the box office and practically brought the formation of Iran’s serious and intellectual cinema to a halt. Nor did it become a major trend in Iranian cinema. After the failure of his second film, Ohanians could not find any support for further activities. He left Iran for India and continued his academic career in Calcutta. Subsequently he returned to Iran in 1947, where he died seven years later. But the idea of setting up a national and intellectual cinema, nevertheless, occupied the minds of Iranian intellectuals for years though it did not come to fruition until the 1960s.

Author of this review: Parviz Jahed