Director, actor and puppet theater veteran Hani Hosseini has lambasted the censorship of TV shows by Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting. The IRIB’s increasingly bizarre restrictions, coupled with a lack of government support, he said, have led to declining audiences as youngsters in Iran seek out foreign works instead.
Theater Practitioners Got $70 in Aid During Covid
In an interview with IranWire, the prolific puppeteer said all the problems had deepened since spring 2020: “The coronavirus outbreak led to the closure of all children’s theaters, and at the same time, the lack of support from managers has prompted many artists to move to other sectors. You might not believe it, but over the last two years while we were all unemployed, theater actors have received just two to three million tomans’ worth of aid (US$70) from the Theater House. They’ve been forced to take up non-artistic work for a living.”
A sit-in by theater practitioners in front of the Iranian parliament building in Tehran last year came to nothing. Three years ago before the pandemic, the ceiling for annual financial aid to theaters from the government’s Institute for the Intellectual Development of Children and Young Adults was 40 million tomans each ($1,413). Inflation has bitten since then, but the maximum stipend remains the same. “A basic stage-setting costs 40 million tomans,” Hosseini lamented. “There is nothing left for the staff salaries, nor for those who perform.”
Provocative Crows and The Word ‘Washing Machine’ Are Out
Hani Hosseini holds a BA in puppetry and an MA in screenplay writing. He is despondent about the number of children’s TV shows being cut on Iranian TV, especially the recent demise of the still-popular Kolah Ghermezi (Red Hat). “This is happening because of the IRIB’s strict censorship rules. They make artists run away.
“For example, in a puppet show we did for television, they pointed to a few strands of the old doll's hair and said that scarf should be brought forward to cover the hair. Elsewhere, they fired the voiceover artist for a crow [puppet] because of their singing. In another scene, the same old woman puppet gave a flower to the host of the program. But they said the way the male host received the flower was ‘inappropriate and erotic’!"
Hosseini went on to say that the female, human host of the program, Aunt Shadoneh, "was told that she had no right to hug the male doll”. The use of the word ‘washing machine’ has been prohibited since a gaffe by a child in the live show. In another instance, the doll eating a cucumber was prohibited.
“There are many strange rules like this in the IRIB. These audits make the work bland and reduce the quality of the comedy. Of course, this loss of audience is not important for the IRIB’s directors, where there’s no competition and no matter how small the audience is, their budget is ensured. Just a few days ago that I turned on the Pouya network on TV for my niece to watch cartoons, but the quality of the shows was so poor, so repetitive, and the dubbing of foreign cartoons so bad, that my niece finally got frustrated and went to her cellphone."
Entertainers Leaving in Droves
Finally, Hani Hosseini disclosed that he no longer wants to work in the field himself. The way artists were being treated by TV bosses was “humiliating”, he said: “To continue this process will result in the destruction of theater. Children will continue to follow other Western and Eastern works in the years to come, and we will no longer have an audience.”
The comments come not a week after Mohammad Moslemi, a veteran actor in Iranian children's theater, gave a similarly gloomy interview with Hamdeli newspaper for its November 10 issue. Moslemi, whose most famous work is the TV show Uncle Fitileh, lambasted both the IRIB and the Ministry of Culture’s interference in children’s entertainment. Youngsters were now watching Korean animations, he said, while Iranian artists were moving to different fields.
"With the internet, and children being able to watch world-class children’s films online, and their tastes having changed, the work of the IRIB has become much more difficult,” he said. “Now we have no shows that might become famous. Iranian children do not have a brand or a national hero.
"It’s the same for the ITIB, the theater, the Institute for Intellectual Development and kids’ cinema. How many works do we have for girls? How many works do we have for children? We no longer have programs that are effective and sustainable. How can there be a children's network with no artists? We are zero in the field of children’s theatre and shows, and we have to accept that we have nothing. They put two poems and songs and a doll together and it becomes a children's program! Our children no longer accept this."