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Last Updated: Wednesday, 9 June, 2004, 13:53 GMT 14:53 UK
Lizard director stays with religion
People queue outside a cinema showing Marmoulak
Marmoulak was a big success in Iran before it was banned
An Iranian director whose film has been banned in his home country for its portrayal of the country's clergy has said he plans to make more movies about religion.

Kamal Mosafaye Tabrizi's comedy Marmoulak - which translates as The Lizard - centres around an escaped prisoner who disguises himself as a cleric. It has now become the most successful Iranian film ever following its release in the US.

But in Iran, its initial success was swiftly followed with a ban, and a declaration by the head of Iran's powerful Guardians Council, Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati, that it was "a hideous film" and a "bad influence."

However, Tabrizi told BBC World Service's Reporting Religion programme that the controversy would not deter him from making more such films in the future.

"I will certainly work on issues related to religion," he said.

"If possible, in my future movies, I will try characterising clerics in some different scenarios."

Positive message

Marmoulak's successful opening in America - despite a dispute over its distribution there - made it the most commercially successful film Iran has ever produced.

But it had already received massive ticket sales in Iran in the few weeks before it was banned, reaching US$1m, with some cinemas having to offer extra late screenings in order to keep up with demand.

Ayatollah Jannati
Ayatollah Jannati says he has not seen the film himself
The positive reaction to the film convinced Iran's hardline clerics to withdraw it.

One conservative newspaper quoted a cleric saying he could not understand why "these days, when I am walking in the street, people call me a lizard".

Tabrizi said that he knew before its release that the film would face some problems.

However he added that he viewed the film as having a positive message about religion in Iran.

"Because of the sensitive status of the clerics in Iranian society, and due to the special relationship between the public and the clerics and the damage done to it, we thought that this film could mend the gap," he stated.

"Before turning hierarchical, the relationship between the general public and clerics was determined by friendship. We believe that this traditional relationship is damaged now.

"In our film, we thought we needed to emphasise that the main bridge connecting people with clerics is sincerity, love and affection, and nothing else."

Comeback hope

In Marmoulak, the central character, Reza, escapes prison disguised as a mullah and quickly discovers the advantages of living the life of holy man in a strongly religious city.

The role proves to be comically challenging as he struggles to deliver sermons, read prayers, and preach. But over time he gains recognition as a popular priest, and his mosque is flooded by young people who can relate to him.

But despite Ayatollah Jannati's statement that "it has many bad teachings and it should be banned," Tabrizi said that not all of Iran's clergy had condemned the film.

"We had a large number of silent supporters, including many clergymen," he argued.

"It was the loud, unhappy minority, who eventually won the game. I hope this would be a temporary ban, and I think it takes some time for all to absorb the message.

"I think the film will make a comeback."

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