Tehran, Jul 14 (AP/UNB) — The Farsi caption has unfurled across the black screen of a channel of Iranian state television every night for days now, promising viewers that what they are about to witness is "based on a real case."
But the slick graphics, chase scenes and gunfights of "Gando" serve a far different purpose — trying to offer justification of Iran's detention, closed-door trial and imprisonment of Washington Post journalist Jason Rezaian.
The case of Rezaian, who was freed in 2016 after 544 days in a prisoner swap between the U.S. and Iran just as Tehran's nuclear deal with world powers came into force, showed how the Islamic Republic can grab those with Western ties to use in negotiations. It's a practice recounted by human rights groups, U.N. investigators and the families of those detained.
"Gando" instead offers a farcical fever dream of conspiracies — from a chador-wearing sniper opening fire to a White House infiltrated by a blond Iranian female spy who works under a portrait of George Washington. It encourages suspicion of the U.S., journalists and anyone leaning too closely to the West amid heightened tensions between Tehran and President Donald Trump over the unraveling nuclear deal. That includes Iran's Foreign Ministry and, by extension, President Hassan Rouhani, who reached the accord.
"Today, it is easier to tell a story of foreign meddling because of the way Trump pulled out of the nuclear accord despite Iran's compliance and then reinstated harsh sanctions," said Narges Bajoghli, an assistant professor at Johns Hopkins University's School of Advanced International Studies who studies the intersections of culture and power in Iran. "It is easier to tell a story of 'no matter what we do, foreign powers want to see Iran weakened.'"
The 30-episode "Gando," which refers to the name of an alligator indigenous to Iran, has all the trappings of an American police or spy procedural.
Beautiful operatives sit in front of high-tech computer monitors showing surveillance footage and drone shots, graphics far better than those typically seen on a state TV series. A wise old commander's fashion sense, while Iranian, nods toward Mark Harmon's character on the long-running American serial "NCIS."
But reality soon gets tossed aside as it focuses on Michael Hashemian, whose last name rhymes with Rezaian's. He's not just a reporter for the fictitious Eye of the World newspaper. He's a super spy who somehow gets a meeting from President Barack Obama in 2013 and an appointment to be the first U.S. ambassador to Iran after the country's Islamic Republic is overthrown. (Obama's letter, flashed on the screen with the former president's signature, erroneously puts the Islamic Revolution in 1978, instead of 1979.)
Gunfights ensue, including one in which a woman in a chador tosses aside a blanket for a sniper rifle to shoot someone in the leg. Hashemian is arrested, kept in a prison cell the size of a small Tehran apartment, and later tells his captors "during this period I've grown a lot fatter" from all the good food during his incarceration.
Reality, obviously, is a different thing.
Rezaian was arrested July 22, 2014, in Tehran alongside his wife, reporter Yeganeh Salehi, at gunpoint in a night raid. Despite being an accredited journalist for The Washington Post with permission to live and work in Iran, Rezaian was taken to Tehran's Evin prison and later convicted in a closed trial before a Revolutionary Court on still-unexplained espionage charges.
"They held him in prolonged solitary confinement, deprived him of sleep, aggressively and relentlessly interrogated him, denied him basic medical treatment for serious and painful illnesses and infections, and threatened him with dismemberment, execution and other forms of cruel and unusual physical torture," his U.S. federal court lawsuit against Iran reads. "They also threatened to maim and kill his wife Yeganeh and other family members."
The U.N. Working Group on Arbitrary Detentions in 2015 also highlighted his case.
"During the interrogations, he was typically hooded when transported between his cell and the interrogation room, and his interrogators used isolation and threats of physical harm to Mr. Rezaian's wife in unsuccessful attempts to force him to confess to crimes which he did not commit," the group's report said. "The source states that Mr. Rezaian has been humiliated, mistreated and deprived of the most basic facilities, including access to a bathroom, at various points during his detention."
While detained, Rezaian suffered "dramatic weight loss, respiratory problems and chronic infections of the eye and urinary tract," the report added. It notes interrogators used an unsuccessful job application to the Obama-Biden transition team in 2008 — offering to "break down barriers" in U.S.-Iran relations — and an effort to secure his wife a U.S. visa as evidence of espionage.
A prisoner swap in January 2016 as Iran's nuclear deal came into force saw Rezaian and three other Iranian-Americans freed. The U.S. also made a $400 million cash delivery to Iran, something "Gando" gleefully recounts with pallets of cash near a private jet at Tehran's Mehrabad airport.
"You're being freed in exchange for hard cash," an Iranian intelligence officer in the series tells Hashemian.
The show also makes Iran's Foreign Ministry look inept amid the negotiations, as only the intelligence operatives made sure to get the money for the prisoner release.
The characterization of the Foreign Ministry, including Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, even came up at a weekly news conference held by the ministry's spokesman, who acknowledged he watched the show and called it "not a bad series based on the special effects."
"They said this is based on a true story. There are so many documents in the Foreign Ministry about our negotiations on this issue," Abbas told journalists. "If they asked us, we would have provided them to them to make the show much more realistic."
The show's vision is clearly embraced by its actors. Payam Dehkordi, who plays Hashemian as a sweating and conniving conman, told Iran's semi-official ISNA news agency that he believed Rezaian was "definitely a spy" after the U.S. made the cash exchange.
"If Jason Rezaian was not a spy, John Kerry would not have welcomed him, and Obama would not have held a luncheon for Rezaian," Dehkordi reportedly said.
To date, other Westerners remain held in Iran.
State television aired a segment this week showing the actors manning a call center, receiving messages from happy fans of "Gando." The director said they planned a second series.
Dhaka, July 14 (UNB) - A recording studio that has been unused for a decade has reopened after a "shoestring" refurbishment, reports BBC.
Sadacca Studios, on the Wicker, in Sheffield, is now a community music space and arts venue.
Based in the former Bob Marley studio it has been equipped by Musical Works, a not-for-profit organisation.
Studio manager Chris Morris said: "This sort of space is much needed, it's open to everybody."
The studio is based at the Sheffield and District African Caribbean Community Association.
"We are reminding our students that music is a physical activity, as a lot of younger people think it's all digital and online," he said.
The studios has been brought back into use by volunteers and using mainly donated equipment.
"It has been done on a shoestring," Mr Morris said.
Sheffield was "blessed with a reputation for producing culturally significant bands" but it needed a place for people in the music scene to meet, Mr Morris added.
He is a music producer who had previously played with local band the Longpigs, alongside Sheffield musician Richard Hawley.
Several groups, including one from the Refugee Council, are already using the studio complex.
Dhaka, July 14 (UNB) - A grassroots film company say their first feature film will showcase the "beautiful" River Nene, reports BBC.
Screen Northants, which organised the first Northampton Film Festival this year, has set an ambitious aim to get 5% of feature films in the UK to be made in Northamptonshire.
Their first production, titled Nene, is about a boy who runs away to find his dad, using the river as a guide.
Saturday's screening is of a "work in progress" before a final edit.
The screening at Northampton Filmhouse at 11:30 BST will also serve as a fundraiser to help get it shown at other UK film festivals.
Audience members, who have paid £25 for tickets, will be invited to give feedback on the film in order to contribute to its final edit.
Nene follows the journey of Rory, a boy who lives in a residential care home in Thrapston, Northamptonshire.
But when the boy's father - who lives in Northampton - fails to contact him, he runs away, using the River Nene, which flows between the two towns, as a guide.
Becky Adams, director of Screen Northants, said: "We aim to make a feature film in this model each year working with local disadvantaged young people on the production and promoting Northamptonshire as a film destination."
The project has also been supported by money from the National Lottery Heritage Fund and BBC Children in Need.
Dhaka, July 14 (UNB) - Filmmaker Karan Johar is all set to expand the world of Student of The Year. According to an Asian Age report, the director is looking to adapt the film franchise into a web series, reports The Indian Express.
Apparently, Alia Bhatt, Varun Dhawan and Siddharth Malhotra, who appeared in SOTY’s first installment of the franchise, will make an appearance in the web series along with Tiger Shroff, Ananya Panday and Tara Sutaria, who took over the silver screen in SOTY 2.
The plot and the drama will be completely different, as far as packaging and presentation are concerned.
Meanwhile, Karan has his hands full with various projects.
The filmmaker is producing Netflix original film Guilty, starring Kiara Advani. “Today a filmmaker with an interesting idea has so many avenues to connect with the audience, and Netflix is definitely one of the most exciting among them. As a content creator, there has never been a better time to tell stories. Guilty is a film that explores a personal, powerful subject where a small-town girl takes on the structures that protect perpetrators of rape. Ruchi Narain is helming the film as a director, and we at Dharmatic, could not be more excited than to see her vision come alive across 190 countries on Netflix,” the director had earlier said in a statement.
Apart from that, he is also working on Ghost Stories, an anthology consisting of four short film segments to be directed by Anurag Kashyap, Zoya Akhtar, Dibakar Banerjee and Karan Johar.
Dhaka, July 14 (UNB) - Disney has released a featurette on the voice cast of the upcoming The Lion King. The film is an updated version of the 1994 animated feature that featured a young lion called Simba who is driven away from his home by his uncle Scar who also murders Simba’s father and his brother, the reigning King Mufasa, reports The Indian Express.
The film is technically photorealistic and not live-action, since it recreated the characters in a lifelike fashion but does not use actual animals.
“With this film, we wanted to honour the past, but we also wanted to do something fresh,” Favreau, who is also known for playing the role of Happy Hogan in the MCU, explains. Donald Glover, who plays Simba says, “I really love the Lion King, so I feel really blessed to be a part of it.”
“Jon gave JD (McCrary, who voices young Simba) and I so much freedom to create that great relationship between young Nala and young Simba,” says Shahadi Wright Joseph, who voices the young Nala. She is best known for Jordan Peele’s horror feature Us.
The Lion King has divided critics. It has scored 60 per cent at Rotten Tomatoes, which is just above average. The consensus reads, “While it can take pride in its visual achievements. The Lion King is a by-the-numbers retelling that lacks the energy and heart that made the original so beloved–though for some fans that may just be enough, reports The Indian Express.
Directed by Jon Favreau (who also helmed 2016’s The Jungle Book), The Lion King features James Earl Jones returning from the original as Mufasa. Donald Glover voices the adult Simba, with Chiwetel Ejiofor giving his voice to Scar. Seth Rogen, Alfre Woodard, Billy Eichner, John Kani, John Oliver, Beyoncé also lend their voices.
The Lion King releases on July 19.