* Persepolis, which sold over a million copies, is now available in 30 languages
* As the story moves forward through the developments in her personal life, the audience is made aware of far-reaching events in Iran throughout Majrane Satrapi’s animated film
* What is truly spectacular is the positioning of terror in a comic format; the juxtaposition of fear with humour
* Humour, Satrapi stresses, is what distinguishes ordinary people from fanatics
First, the bad news. Marjane Satrapi is not going to create comics any more. Now, the good news. She is going to continue making films. And women, she says, will remain her principal muse; her last film was a biopic of Marie Curie.
“I’m not going to write comics anymore,” Satrapi, 51, said at the virtual screening of Persepolis , the 2007 animated version of the 2000 comic book. The event was organised by the French Institute in India last weekend, ahead of the launch of a Hindi translation of Persepolis — which is now available in 30 languages.
The comic (Satrapi objects to it being called a graphic novel: “Comic sounds better,” she says) is about the life of a young Iranian girl who grows up under the shadow of the Iranian revolution. The storyline is loosely based on Satrapi’s own life. The title refers to an ancient Persian capital.
Satrapi wrote the book — the text and illustrations — simply out of an urge to create, and had not expected it to do too well. It won her overnight success and sold over a million copies. Two decades after it was published, it continues to be relevant for new readers with its focus on political, social and gender oppression. Satrapi’s directorial debut was nominated for an Oscar as best animated feature film in 2008.
“I was convinced that I would make the worst film in history. Nothing worse could happen. It would be the worst film, but I would have made it, and it would come out, and people would forget about it,” she says at the virtual video conference from Paris — where she is now based — referring to how she battled her fears. The debut effort ended up convincing her to make more films.
Cinema has its share of problems, though, she points out.
“I am not a morning person. With a comic, you are alone with your work. You can start and finish when you like, unlike on a film set where you have to get up early on call, and keep a smile on your face on set even before you’ve had your coffee!”
The narrative and visuals of Persepolis are striking. The trials of a 14-year-old girl in Iran are related in a nonchalant manner, the tales of an oppressive Islamic regime casually recounted; how, for instance, the teenager escapes the guardians of the revolution who arrest her for listening to Western music. What is truly spectacular is the positioning of terror in a comic format; the juxtaposition of fear with humour.
As the story moves forward through the developments in her personal life, the audience is made aware of far-reaching events in Iran throughout the riveting 96-minute film — from the fall of the Shah of Iran to the new Islamic regime and the Iran-Iraq war. Meanwhile, young Marjane has her own struggles — living apart from parents in Vienna for her education, while her country is at war, or breaking up with a boy who decides he likes other boys. A bad marriage and advice from a grandmother which keeps her grounded, it has all the elements of a powerful coming-of-age tale.
The story has a global appeal — which is what drew Bengaluru-based Appupen, a leading comic writer in India, to it. When the film was released, it seemed as if it was placed in a remote world. But with the backdrop of rising oppressive regimes and displacement of migrants around the world, more people can relate to the tale’s horrors, says Appupen, who was present at the virtual event. The book has been translated by Vani Prakashan, a publishing house that has also published several works of Taslima Nasrin.
A lot of the attraction of Persepolis lies in the beautiful and mostly black-and-white illustrated frames, which were animated in the film. Satrapi dismisses any pretensions of high art during the interaction with the audience, largely from India, after the screening. “I draw like this because this is what I know. I wouldn’t be able to draw any other way if you asked me to!”
She does not like to describe her book as an autobiography either — “An autobiography is basically when you hate your mother or sister or father or husband, whatever... It is in that strain... and I wouldn’t like to call this an autobiography!”
Even though Persepolis is set in the times of war, it is full of lighter moments that evoke smiles, or even laughter, from viewers and readers. Humour, Satrapi stresses, is what distinguishes ordinary people from fanatics.
“Fanatics never have a sense of humour, you must have noticed! They are always out to get someone, get offended and never let things go. I have never understood why people must get offended by a work of art. If you don’t like it, don’t watch it, or read it! Why must you destroy it?”
(Persepolis in Hindi is now on sale in India.)
Payel Majumdar Upreti