High price of noble ideals
Houshang Touzie's intriguing multifaceted
September 8, 2004
Social commentary is rarely more honest and effective
than biting satire delivered with a comic punch. And in the disparate
Iranian diaspora community, no one does it better than Houshang
In his latest creation, "Az
Maahvaareh baa Eshgh" ("Via
Satellite TV with Love"), performed at San Francisco's Palace
of Fine Arts to a sell-out crowd, Touzie plays a starry-eyed refugee,
newly-arrived in Los Angeles, who is bent on "taking over
the city" with the launch of his own 24-hour satellite television
station. Based on truth, freedom, and democracy, he hopes
his station will soon lead to the liberation of Iran, or barring
him to bring his ailing mother to the States.
After lying about
the reason for his asylum ("to have a better life" did
not cut it), he now finds himself living the lie by masquerading
as the "darbaar" (court) singer at Iranian weddings in
Los Angeles, while scheming ways to turn his faltering half-hour
TV show into a bona fide 24-hour satellite station.
With the help of his cunning older cousin (played by Behrooz Vosoughi),
who has arrived empty-handed from Germany after promising a diffusion
of cash, CHO.I.N.T.M.M. TV is born -- from the anthem Cho Iran
Nabaashad Tane Man Mabaad (if Iran is naught, I am naught). The
new station's program line-up is an acerbic pun at the plethora
of programs on existing Iranian channels broadcast via satellite
from Los Angeles.
Among these is a call-in music request show hosted
by a clueless perky neo-Iranian damsel in tights; a dismally bleak
show by a depressed philosophizing host obsessed with Sadegh Hedayat;
and a show featuring a highly esteemed divorce lawyer, nimbly played
by Vosoughi, who promises to take your husband for all he's got "by
simply dialing 1-800-GO-TALAGH."
When the new station's dire financial situation peaks, the cousins
set out to raise the money by appealing to the audience's maligned
sense of nostalgia and nationalism and offering them soil and air!
samples of Iran for hefty donations. When this tactic fails to
sufficiently woo the audience, the cousins hit on another idea,
in the form of a disparaging caller, in order to tug at the audience's
sense of pity (del sookhtani).
In this scene Touzie's genius for mixing comedy and commentary
shines. Instead of dispensing rash "fohsh" (obscenity)
the presumed caller, feigned by one of the cousins, carries on
rational dialogue with the befuddled host, who is at his wit's
end to answer the caller's charges of impropriety, pretense, sham
and dishonesty. The host feigns tears (tissues at the ready) and
the prank works -- sympathy donations begin to flow into their
bank (of America!) account.
Later, in a lucid moment of self-realization, Touzie's character
awakens to the harsh reality of having attained success at the
high price of his once noble ideals. He chastises himself, but
goes further to admonish a community which so readily bought into
his antics of lofty slogans and sensationalism. A sad commentary
indeed not only on unscrupulous producers and hosts of such shows
in real-life, but also on an obtuse audience which has embraced
it, and a larger silent community which has tolerated it.
Other subordinate themes are also at work in this intriguing multifaceted
play. There is the main character's resolute fiancé, a beautiful
modern woman who is a pillar of support and stability, if not the
moral barometer, of her fiancé's wayward dreams and his
subtle alcohol problem. And there is the recurring theme, espoused
by the older, wiser cousin, that money is not at the core of the
younger cousin's dilemmas. Still in its infancy (San Francisco
was only the third performance), the play could benefit from shortening
it a little, and having a less righteous, more realistic (and therefore
The play, like Touzie's other successful productions, is a timely,
observant, and entertaining look at our émigré community.
Whether it's confounded parents struggling to raise teenagers in
the delicate balance between two cultures (the subject of his earlier
smash hit, "Zendegeeye Shirin-e Ma" or "Our Sweet
Life"), or a stinging, yet honest commentary on a shamelessly
self-promoting, ethically and morally challenged, sensationalist
broadcast industry that has raised the bar all the way up to a
Jerry Falwell or a Jerry Springer, Touzie gets it right again!