Global and Iranian history are both closely intertwined with the lives and destinies of prominent figures. Every one of them has laid a brick on history’s wall, sometimes paying the price with their lives, men and women alike. Women have been especially influential in the last 200 years, writing much of contemporary Iranian history.
In Iran, women have increased public awareness about gender discrimination, raised the profile of and improved women’s rights, fought for literacy among women, and promoted the social status of women by counteracting religious pressures, participating in scientific projects, being involved in politics, influencing music, cinema... And so the list goes on.
This series aims to celebrate these renowned and respected Iranian women. They are women who represent the millions of women that influence their families and societies on a daily basis. Not all of the people profiled in the series are endorsed by IranWire, but their influence and impact cannot be overlooked. These articles are biographical stories that consider the lives of influential women in Iran.
In the days when a major vocation for Iranian schoolchildren was supporting – and at times, escorting – soldiers heading to the frontlines, when the sounds of red and white sirens and war anthems were as ubiquitous as lullabies, one woman restored some much-needed fantasy and creativity back into their childhoods in the form of television shows populated by puppets and dolls.
Marzieh Boroumand is a figure treasured by many Iranians who grew up in the 1980s. Her joyful television programs, such as The School of Mice and Grandma’s House, were a welcome counterbalance to the anxious voices of radio presenters narrating casualties, deaths and military operations during the horrific eight-year conflict with Iraq.
In those years, it was not always safe to go out to play in parks or other open spaces. Youngsters in 1980s Iran accordingly spent much of their formative years sitting in front of the television. News broadcasts warned them to keep away from the windows, and with the sounding of the red siren, the lights would all be turned off and families would withdraw into their basements for shelter from potential Iraqi air raids. In those days, there were just two channels on Iranian television, dominated by the news.
In 1981, Marzieh Boroumand staged and directed a 10-episode series of televised puppet shows for children, called The School of Mice. The names of its whiskered protagonists are etched into the memories of many Iranian children of that time, and the program’s cheerful, uplifting jingle raised their spirits.
The warm reception The City of Mice received would prompt Boroumand to produce a second series, and then another. The program was eventually broadcast on Iranian state television up until 1984. In 1985, Boroumand went on to produce a movie, called The City of Mice, featuring the same cast of puppet characters.
On being interviewed by IranWire about the impact of these broadcasts on children at the time, Boroumand laughs and says, "It was enough for me that when the new generation of cellphones, other gadgets and bluetooth arrived, the opening music of The School of Mice was a ringtone for many young people.”
Noticing the level of nostalgia that existed for The School of Mice in Iran, Boroumand decided to create a sequel to the film, The City of Mice 2. In the film, which finally hit the big screens last year, the mice are 30 years older: just like Iran’s children of 1980s, who are now in their thirties.
Last year, Boroumand broke her long silence over censorship of The School of Mice on television at that time. She told Etemad newspaper: "Dealing with the IRIB [Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting] officials was exhausting. They constantly read through the scripts and tried their best to discover some immoral or non-educational aspect in them.
“They criticized every funny and interesting move on the part of the mice. From their point of view, naming the mice using adjectives such as "Long-tail" or "Chubby" was immoral. The mice were not to grab food from each other, they were not to make noises in the classroom, because they thought it was bad.
“When we were recording the program, there was always something going on behind the scenes. There was always somebody loitering around behind the screen sneaking, in case the male and female puppeteers accidentally touched each other.”
Mice were not Boroumand’s only influential characters. In 1987 she produced another puppet show for children, Grandma’s House, in which each episode of which an elderly grandmother and her pets tell a different story. The opening of each tale was heralded by a jubilant Iranian poem.
Following her success in children’s entertainment, Boroumand began to produce TV programs with wider family appea. Some of her subsequent works, which took on a more nuanced, ironic tone, were among the most popular TV programs of the day in Iran.
When asked why, in her opinion, her works have been so enduringly popular, Boroumand points to her family background. She has two twin sisters, Ehteram – a TV presenter and audiobook producer who was in charge of children’s broadcasting in Iran 11 years before the revolution – and Razieh, who is also a TV presenter, actor and puppeteer. “When all members of the family have a hand in art,” she says, “they all support you and everything works better."
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