The tragic story of ‘The Stoning of Soraya’
The status of women in closed, authoritarian societies has not been subject of quite a number of movies. This is owing to the fact that such matters are usually taken as internal; not meant for the world to know. Powerful groups of the closed societies maintain this claim to secrecy as a tool of oppression. The world at large does not do enough to unravel such hidden practices unless demanded by their own benefit. However sometimes even apart from benefit, an occasional encounter with misdeeds does persuade individuals to let the truth out. Probably this is how Soraya’s story got public.
A young woman named Soraya Manutchehri was stoned to death on charges of adultery in a small isolated village of Iran in 1986. On the next day of the incident of stoning an Iranian-French journalist Freidoune Sahebjam, while passing through the village, encountered the aunt of Soraya. The latter narrated her story of the stoning of Soraya which was later published by the journalist and became an international bestseller. The movie is based on the novel with the same title.
The screenplay of the movie goes likewise starting with the entry of the journalist. But before that the registering scene is that of human bones being collected and buried by a woman later came to be known as the aunt of Soraya. So there is left little doubt about the ending of the story but nonetheless the suspense and curiosity of the viewer does not die. On the contrary, it increases with every passing scene. Many factors contribute to this rising immersion into the story; the serene look of the village, the grim faces of the characters, the political symbolism registered now and then, a sense of deep empathy the viewer feels for the protagonist Soraya since the very beginning, to name a few. The slow paced, artistically meaningful and visually rich camera work and background score rich with touching oriental vocals complement the sense of extraordinary.
Soraya, from a literary and cinematic point of view is one of the most oppressed characters one can come to know. Those living in patriarchal and theocratic setup can relate that there is little room for exaggeration in narrating what a lonely and vulnerable person like her has to go through. From facing the beating of her husband, to the abandonment by her male children, till finally facing the verdict of her stoning as a result of hatched plot by her husband, Mullah, Mayor and other aides, Soraya reaches the zenith of her misery and helplessness. The scene of her stoning appears too graphic and tragic to bear but with every stone thrown at her by the mixed crowd, who has their different reasons to be part of this bloody orgy, Soraya appears triumphant. With the scene of her death, no viewer remains unsure of the fact that she is on her way to the heavens, while the sacred slogans by the lynching crowd appear as meaningless as anything.
As the world would come to know and stand against such barbarity, it is not the world that the self appointed guardians of faith will have to worry more about but their own redemption.
(Published in The Laaltain – Issue 6)