Majid Majidi and my old sneakers
My CD player wasn't working. I tried in vain to fix it and made it even worse. It's usual of me though as I always mess up fine stuff with the good intention to make things better. Anyway, took a long climb to the fourth floor of the New Market Building. My broken device was from a store there. The funky sales guy gave me that weird gesture with his head that unravels “Hello there, good to see you again.” He got busy working out what was wrong with my player and I was browsing through the new track list. Something caught my eye just at the corner, a bunch of fellows were thronging around the TV screen. At first I thought some latest Indian music video was playing on there, but no! It was really not something I could predict dudes from a CD store could take pleasure in. On the segment that I could see, a group of young boys were running on a hilly track with a specific one in focus. From the dialogues in subtitles and setting I figured it was sort of an Iranian film. Actually, I have never seen people showing such interests for movies that seem innocently children's and particularly from Iran and not from Indian Film Industry with groundbreaking and head shaking entertainment. However, the sales guy was done with my player and before he said 'adios' again with that same freaky style, I got the fact from him that the picture was an Iranian film in fact by Majid Majidi with the title Children of Heaven.
Days passed and I almost forgot all about it. One day, at a movie rental store just at the corner of my house, a funny cover struck my eyes with the picture of the silhouette of a young boy running, a pair of old, overused, shabby, sneakers just beneath the title Children of Heaven. I had something, most likely a flashback and rented the film. A week of busy schedule went through with no time even to breathe at ease, still the line from the cover hovered around my head “A little secret…their biggest adventure”. I guessed something exciting was soon to be deciphered.
Finally, one evening, all out of the blue, I was on vacation and in front of the PC screen for about two hours with moving entertainment. The storyline is quite simple. A young boy loses his sister's shoes. He takes them to a cobbler for repair, and on the way home when he stops to pick up vegetables for his mother, a blind trash collector accidentally carries them away. Of course the boy named Ali is afraid to tell his parents, and his sister named Zahra wants to know how she is supposed to go to school without her only pair of torn shoes in faded pink with bows. The children feverishly write down notes under their parent's nose trying to make their way out of this trouble. The answer is simple Zahra will wear Ali's shoes to school every morning and then run home after school so that Ali can put them on for his school in the afternoon. But Zahra can't always run fast and Ali who is a good student gets in trouble for being late at class. There are other troubles as well; such as to sneak pick the school guard, and what could one do if her loose shoe falls into drain with running water? There is a heart-breaking scene when Zahra solemnly regrets her own precious lost shoes, now on the feet of the rag-picker's daughter. In the meantime Ali accompanies his father as a hired out garden-man for the Tehran's rich as the family's poverty works as a backdrop for the film. The father-son trip from the almost medieval streets and alleys of the old town to the luxurious part of Tehran, where all the rich live, turns out to be profitable after a whole days work in a garden. But on the way back a bicycle accident ruins it all. The bad brakes break into pieces all of Ali's high hopes (of a pair of sneakers and pretty little shoes for Zahra)! Nevertheless, the fortune offers him a new chance with a four-kilometer school race where the third price happens to be a pair of new white sneakers. Ali is determined to be third and he runs… he sees the sad face of his young sister and runs… he hears her complain in a sobbing voice, how ashamed she is at school with the dirty sneakers much bigger than her size and runs…he remembers how he has shouted at Zahra for being late knowing that the poor thing couldn't run any faster and Ali runs like the wind. A wily competitor with a shove makes him stumble and fall, but Ali gets up and runs again. Close to the finish line Ali is among the first five boys. With the crowd's uproar, his coach shouting and the headmaster screaming Ali crosses the finish line and falls flat on the ground. All out of breath he asks, “Did I come third sir?”
This outcome of the race is the most climactic part of the film. Does the weary soldier returns home with the sneakers, or not? This seems to be the question that kept the crowd at the CD store at a spellbound, who I'm sure was more touched by the film than the thrilling excitement of any hot-list entries as “Mission Impossible 3” or “The Terminator”. The story personally reminds me of the boy's family from the Dickens's A Christmas Carol. Though there was nothing grand, exhilarating or electrifying about them all, still they gratify and please any reader with their simple hearty happiness. In fact the movie Children of Heaven is the first ever Oscar nominee Iranian film for best foreign language film. Though it's not slow, spare or contemplative drama like any serious movie of Abbas Kairoshtami, this fanciful and inspiring story of a poor brother and sister's attempt to conceal the fact that they share the same pair of sneaker is a must-see for it's pure hearted sincerity. Since I've seen the youngsters performing to their best in a film that is now one of the topmost on my favorite list, any shoe that catches my glimpse, be that a thrownaway sandal on the street, tattered little baby shoes in the dustbin, old wornout boots in the gutter, or my own ragged sneakers, makes me think what big adventurous stories might these little things conceal!
(Premier University, Chittagong)
(R) thedailystar.net 2006