The Iranian cultural scene is vibrant, it speaks to a wide audience, is focused on different issues and has an ample resonance both inside the country and abroad. The traditional form of theatre is called taziye: it is a mourning ritual commemorating the death of Imam Hussein, the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad, who was murdered on the plain of Karbala by his religious and political opponents in year 680. The Karbala tragedy divided the world of Islam between the Shiites, who believed that the leadership of the Muslim community would follow the blood relations of the Prophet Muhammad, and the Sunnites, who believed that the leader should be elected according to ancient and tribal traditions. In Iran, all social classes participate in the mourning. Besides traditional theatre, during the year and especially on the occasion of Fajr festival the capital Tehran offers a wide range of shows which have to cope with censorship.
Iranian cinema is a major form of communication and acclaimed art. It has a long history, dating back to Naser al-Din Shah’s trip to Europe at the end of the XIX century. Across decades, Iranian cinema had to cope with the need for funding, as well as with censorship. An amazing case in the 1960s was the film Gav (The Cow, 1969): the filmmaker Dariush Mehrjui was able to access public funds and made a film focused on rural areas while the regime was trying to portray a modern country. The film was banned in Iran and taken to Venice, where it won a prize. Under the Islamic Republic, several types of films developed under different themes such as religion, war, gender. Certain kinds of cinema are still considered subversive by the authorities and the acclaimed filmmaker Jafar Panahi is currently banned to travel outside the country and to give interviews, but still makes films. As other forms of art, cinema can press social issues and contemporary topics. This was the case, for instance, of Panahi's film Dayereh (The Circle, 2000) that criticizes the treatment of women in Iran. The film has won several awards, including the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival in 2000, but it is banned in Iran. Further “social films” are Arousi-ye Khouban (Marriage of the Blessed, 1989) by Mohsen Makhmalbaf and Marmoulak (The Lizard, 2004) by Kamal Tabrizi. A good reference on this topic is The Politics of Iranian Cinema. Film and society in the Islamic Republic by Saeed Zeydabadi-Nejad (Routledge 2010).
Music covers a wide range of types, traditional to local to pop. Again, censorship obliges many artists to work abroad. Traditional music is played with chang (harp), santur, tar, setar, as well as wind instruments as ney and percussions as daf. There is a deep interest in intertwining Iranian and Western music. This is the case of the composer Hafez Nazeri, who moved from Iran to the US at the turn of the century to pursue his studies, and now makes a musical fusion between Iranian and Western music.