SGlobal stories have made Ramin Bahrani one of America’s most important new directors. Each of his films, whether “Goodbye Solo” or “99 Homes”, has received awards at international festivals. Now the 45-year-old has adapted the successful novel “The White Tiger”. The film just started on Netflix.
Mr. Bahrani, you are an Iranian American. Does the culture of your immigrant parents still affect your work?
Yes, fundamentally. I was born and raised in North Carolina, studied in New York and still live there now. But I spent three years of my adult life in Iran. The fact that I can see the world through two different pairs of eyes has shaped my identity immensely, and later my work too. Iranian cinema has impressed me since I was a teenager. For me it all belongs together – all these influences made me who I am now.
You were socialized in America. How did you decide to live in your parents’ country for a long time?
When I was in my early twenties, I wanted to travel to Iran for a few weeks, for the first time ever, with my parents, who had not been there for 25 years. After six weeks they flew back to the United States, while I decided to stay a little longer. That turned into three years.
What drew you to Iran, a home that is foreign to you?
I wanted to find out more about myself, wanted to know what had shaped my parents and where everything came from that they had given me, whether language, values, literature or fairy tales, all the stories of my childhood. It was time to grapple with my family’s past and develop a deeper relationship to my cultural substrate. I wanted to know what connects me to Iran and what culture feeds my films.
How did this search for identity end?
I have a clearer vision of who I am as an artist. I’ve always been good at looking where no one else is looking, into the abysses, the cracks and corners. I like to show people you don’t normally see in films – the lower class, the immigrants, the working class. You have already seen these people with me in “Man Push Cart” or “Chop Shop”, now everything leads to “The White Tiger”. I waited more than fifteen years to make this film.
What is your intellectual and cinematic cosmos made of? Are social issues the common thread in your films?
In part, yes. I focus on interesting characters first. The stories then develop from these characters: Pakistani men in “Man Push Cart” or in “Chop Shop” Hispanic children who live in a junkyard in Queens. “Goodbye Solo” was about a black taxi driver in North Carolina who was from Senegal. “99 Homes” was about white workers losing their homes. I’m interested in social classes because we can see all over the world how much anger builds up there. Many people feel that the world is working against them.
Could it be that you, the American with flawless English, still have the immigrant’s sensitive antennae?
Oh yes, of course. To this day, people around me find it difficult to pronounce or write my name correctly. I also remember vividly the strange feeling it was like living in 1979 during the hostage situation in the American embassy in Tehran, North Carolina.
But in 1979 you were still a child …?