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Iranian Drag Queen Amir Vashtani’s Life Gets Documentary Treatment


A scene of an Iranian movie "Khoraman" directed by Arash Eshaghi.

The life story of a man who built his entire life and world on dancing in women's clothing is getting the cinematic treatment. Although it is not illegal to dance in Iran the vague laws around "indecent" acts can get a person into serious trouble.

"Khoraman," screened at this year's Sheffield Documentary Film Festival as "Gracefully," is a documentary directed by Iranian filmmaker Arash Eshaghi and dedicated to the life of Iranian drag queen Amir Vashtani.

Vashtani had been performing on stage for decades when the Islamic Revolution in 1979 led to the downfall of Iran's pro-West monarch, and dancing was banned across the country. He currently lives on a remote farm and sometimes dances as a drag queen for the elderly in nursing homes.

"It is thirty-forty years that I am yearning to perform on a stage again. Still, the one who wants to dance sees everywhere as a stage," says Vashtani, 80.

This is the beginning of the audience’s encounter with a man who did not give up his job when the Islamic Revolution dominated Iran and immediately banned dancing.

Nevertheless, the Iranian drag queen defied the ban and performed in various forms, including dancing at weddings and nursing homes. Even now, at 80, his defiance continues.

Khoraman (literary meaning 'moving gracefully') shows us pictures of Vashtani's performances before the revolution, gracefully dancing in women's clothing and makeup.

"And then, there was the Revolution,” Vashtani tells the audience and falls silent. The audience can guess what happened to such a character later.

Vashtani elaborates on his tribulations and how he attempted to carry on his profession as a dancer at ceremonies, including wedding parties.

Once, he was forced to undress before a Prayer Imam to convince him of being a male performer. Afterward, the Prayer Imam told people that watching Vashtani's dancing at wedding parties was permissible.

The filmmaker also speaks to Vashtani's sons, one of whom is ashamed of his father's performances, while the other is proud. Another son bitterly says that he used to be his father's drummer, destructing how in the 1980s, the Komiteh revolutionary police forces raided the family house, arrested them and damaged his fingers to the extent that he was forced to quit drumming.

The film, while it falters midway and becomes monotonous, can ultimately be an engaging portrait of a man who went against the flow of his community and dismissed others' judgment.

In the final sequence, we see the 80-year-old Iranian drag queen dancing alone in his backyard. In a few different scenes, the filmmaker invites the audience to share Vashtani's solitude and join the dance.

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