It was a reunion worthy of figuring in any of his widely acclaimed films. But for exiled, award-winning Iranian film-maker Mohsen Makhmalbaf, arranging to meet his old mother for the first time in eight years during a film festival underway in Kochi was all too real, and far more precious than any cinematic moment in his three-decade career.
Makhmalbaf, 55, fled Iran in 2005 to escape a crackdown on freedom of expression and film-making after Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was elected president in a disputed election. He hopped from country to country along with his wife Marziyeh, two daughters and a son, seeking refuge and making films along the way.
But his mother Esmat, now 83, had to be left behind and until this week, they had met just once in the immediate aftermath of Makhmalbaf leaving Iran. Esmat could not travel to any of the countries where her son and his family was staying as the odds were heavily loaded against them.
“The moment I got the invitation for the Kochi International Film Festival, I called my mother and asked her to apply for an Indian visa,” Makhmalbaf, who now lives in London, told The Sunday Express. “It is difficult for Iranians to get a visa to visit London. The situation was not different in Paris or Tajikistan. Other than India, nowhere else could I invite my mother for a family get-together.”
Makhmalbaf and his family arrived in Kochi last Sunday and Esmat a day later, and the film-maker went to the airport to receive her. “That was the most cherished moment in my life. All of us wept when we met at the Kochi airport,” Makhmalbaf said recalling the reunion. Esmat said she was excited to see her son and grandchildren.
Makhmalbaf has made about two dozen films and his 2001 film Kandahar was selected by Time magazine as one of the top 100 films of all time.
On the run since 2005, Makhmalbaf and his family first sneaked into Afghanistan and were making a film there when a bomb blast on a location killed a crew member and wounded several others, forcing him to leave. They went to Tajikistan next, where they continued with their film-making and even organised a film festival. Paris was the next stop and two years back, they reached London.
“We were like refugees. Even as we faced threats to our lives, the family has together made 10 films during these eight years,” said Makhmalbaf. Barring Makhmalbaf, the rest of his family is living in Britain on an asylum visa. “We do not have British passports. Our situation is not secure and we are traveling a lot from one place to another,” he said.
After the festival ends on Sunday, Makhmalbaf and his family will return to London and his mother to Iran. But he says he will remind his mother not to lose hope about the future. Makhmalbaf and his family cannot return to Iran as they fear for their lives there. Esmat, a retired nurse who has also acted in seven films including some of her son’s, has not been targeted because of her age, he says.
Asked how his mother felt to be separated from him for all these years, Makhmalbaf said hundreds of mothers in Iran had lost their children who fought for freedom of expression and many film-makers were either in jail or in exile. Makhmalbaf was himself jailed for four-and-a-half years until the 1979 revolution.
But despite the bitter experiences, Makhmalbaf said he and his wife missed many things about their country. “I am passionate about Iran. But if I go back now, they will arrest me. We are in exile. We have to deal with the situation,” said wife Marziyeh.