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Iran's Makhmalbafs love Gandhi, Ray, Old Delhi

By Hindol Sengupta, IANS

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Iran's first family of cinema, the Makhmalbafs, have said the philosophies of Indian leader Mahatma Gandhi and filmmaker Satyajit Ray are their guiding lights.

And when in New Delhi, they just cannot resist the warren of Delhi's old quarter, with its countless alleys, bustling bazaars and mosques and minarets.

"Gandhi is a great influence in my life," said Mohsen Makhmalbaf, 47-year-old head of Iran's House of Makhmalbaf that includes his wife and three children - all of whom are filmmakers.

"In fact, when I met our president (Mohammad Khatami) last year, I told him, 'You should be a Gandhi to our people'," Makhmalbaf, who has won 15 international awards in 14 years of filmmaking, told IANS.

"I said, 'Lead us to more freedom, to liberal values like the great Gandhi'."

He is in New Delhi as a jury member for the sixth Asian film festival, which has a special section on the films made by the Makhmalbaf family this year.

Another abiding interest of his is director Satyajit Ray. "His films are full of immense sensitivity, there is so much of the magic of ordinary life," said Makhmalbaf.

This love for India is shared by his daughters - Samira, 24 and Hana, 15.

"I've been watching Ray all my life," said Hana, whose "Joy of Madness" was invited to Venice and won two prizes last year, though she was too young by Italian law to attend.

Hana left formal education to study at her father's Makhmalbaf Film House and completed her first short film "The Day My Aunt Was Ill", which was screened at Locarno. And at 13, Hana's volume of poetry "Visa For a Moment" in English, Persian and French.

"Ray is someone I tremendously admire," said the petite Samira Makhmalbaf. "He was a true genius but I don't care much for Bollywood. In fact, I've barely seen much of it."

Samira's first association with cinema was when she, at seven, acted in her father's "The Cyclist". Quitting high school at 14, she learnt cinema at the family school.

At 18, she became the youngest director in the world participating in the official section of the 1998 Cannes Film Festival with her film "The Apple".

The film has since been invited to more than 100 international film festivals in a period of two years, while going to the screen in more than 30 countries.

In 2000, Samira's second feature film "The Blackboard" won a jury prize at Cannes.

Last year, Samira won top honour at the International Film Festival of India for "At 5 in the Afternoon".

The Makhmalbafs, all of whom have visited Delhi at least twice, throng to old Delhi each time.

"I love the clothes and little trinkets there," said Hana.

Added Samira: "Its such a place full of old feelings and things and so much hidden history."

Mohsen, looking slightly harried, asked the organisers: "Can we go to old Delhi now? Is it possible?"


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