If one does not immediately associate Iran with comedy, that is certainly no fault of the men and women who perform in the Siah Bâzi, a traditional Iranian performance in which a capering harlequin in blackface sets out to elicit laughter from the audience. Maryam Khakipour's documentary examines the alarming disappearance of humor from Iranian society by following one such troupe of political satirists who discover that the government is about to close their theatre. Performing in the venerable Nasr Theater on the Laleh Zar, Tehran's so-called "Street of Joy," these "joymakers" delight their audiences with ribald improvisations that test the boundaries of permitted speech and tweak the power elites of their repressive society. They are led by "The Black," a soot-faced Persian counterpart to the medieval court jester, who represents the antic, transgressive impulse within the common man. Neither he nor anyone else in the troupe has any classical theatrical training. Born into the theater, these performers have little to fall back on when the Nasr is unceremoniously shuttered, and some become cab drivers, truck drivers, or tea servers. They ultimately gather together to vent their frustrations in a bitch session that gets to the heart of a dilemma much greater than their personal one: What happened to laughter in Iran? What are people to do in a country where tears, to be shed at every occasion, are the only approved form of expression? By opening up a window to the vanishing phenomena of "gaiety agencies" and "ritualized joymaking," Siah Bâzi highlights the deep relevance of such questions to present and future generations of Iranians.
Maryam Khakipour was born in Tehran. After receiving her B.A. in Literature, she took a number of courses at the Art and Drama Conservatory at the University of Tehran. She started out taking acting classes and was eventually hired to teach drama. In 1982, she moved to France, where she continued to act in both film and theater. Siah Bâzi is her first feature-length film.