T h e W h i t e B a l l o o n

Moiz Bhinderwala

I. Give a short summary of the film in which you tell:

- where and when the story takes place

- who the main characters are – protagonists and antagonists

- how their lives are affected by the culture they are in

The story is set in a modern Tehran – just two hours before the start of the traditional Persian New Year -the first day of spring, March 21st, is New Year's Day in Iran.

The whole story revolves around Raziah, a determined seven-year-old girl who wants nothing more than a certain beautiful goldfish to decorate her family's house for the New Year- (the first day of spring, March 21st, is New Year's Day in Iran)

Though it's tough to convey the excitement of such a simple plot in words, her quest for the fish is surprisingly moving. This is partly because the adorable Raziah, who shouts all her lines, is so utterly appealing; and partly because the market of Tehran, where she ventures out to buy the fish with her mother's money

(under strict instructions to bring back change). seems like no place for a little girl to be wandering by herself – (underlines the fact about restriction on women in this culture)

A sense of threat accompanies Raziah on her journey. First, some snake charmers - a bunch of men that she has been warned not to look at, by her parents - manage to separate the seven-year-old from her note. With the help of her sturdy vocal chords she manages to get the money back, only to lose it again. There's a subtle feeling that Raziah might be paddled by her parents if she doesn't get her money back - her brother, who convinced their mother to give his sister the money in the first place, shows up at one point with a black eye.

The adults who surround the two children can't seem to understand how dire it is that they get their money back, but the kids themselves are quite certain of the gravity of their task. With earnest concentration, they try a variety of techniques to retrieve the bank note that has fallen through a grating into a cellar. Her search to recover the cash becomes intertwined with the lives of vendors, merchants, an indignant tailor, a friendly soldier on leave far from home, an Afghan refugee selling balloons and Raziah's own brother.

The film takes place in real time, heightening the sense of living inside a child's world. Though the adults can't understand how important it is for Raziah to get her goldfish or to retrieve her money, it becomes very clear to us that these are matters of immense importance.

The White Balloon conveys that deep, even timeless, childhood feeling of being thwarted at something you really want, of how something like a bowl of goldfish can be a life-or-death matter!

The movie also brings out the various aspects of the Iranian Moslem culture in which the plot is set. The very fact that Raziah’s parents warn her of places that girls are not supposed to go – indicates that in this culture there are restrictions on girls with regards to entertainment.

The scene where Raziah engages into talk with the friendly soldier, she is shown re-arranging her dress time and again, this also points out the strict dress code that women in this culture are supposed to stick to.

II. As an anthropologist you are trying to understand this culture based on what you have seen in this film.

- What differences are there between your culture and the culture presented in the film?

I come from India, which shares an Asian culture with Iran. Moreover since my religion is Islam which is the same as the one of all the characters in the movie, it is difficult to me to narrow down the differences between my culture and the culture portrayed in the movie.

However, the one differences that I noticed between the two cultures, in the movie was the dress code. Women in Iran are supposed to follow a strict dress code in which they wear longer dresses so as to cover their hands and legs, and are supposed to cover their hair at all times. In the modern Indian culture there are similar rules, but they are not as strict. Women don’t necessarily have to cover their hair with cloth at all times. Even men’s clothing, as shown in the movie is different.

-What are the major values of this culture?

- The major values of this culture are as follows

Festivals, Occasions : We see that in this movie on the occasion of New year, people wear new clothes, friends and families exchange gifts, distribute sweetmeats get together and celebrate. People even save their money to buy gifts for their relatives and friends, like Raziah’s mother does. People get new clothes stitched for such occasions.

Social relationships: I also saw that on occasions like New Year, the people of this culture exchange gifts, they even save up their money to buy gifts for their friends and relatives, which goes to show that social relationships between people are very important in this culture.

Trust: In the movie, in various scenes, the helpful nature of the people is very evident. In one of the beginning scenes, where one of the neighbor’s kids comes and asks Raziah’s mother for a goldfish for their new year decorations, Raziah’s mother trusts him and allows him to take the goldfish for free. Which shows the trust that exists between neighbors in this culture. Another account where trust between people is evident, is when the shop-keeper of the fish-shop tells Raziah that she could bring in the money later and still take one of the goldfishes.

Helpful nature: In other scenes where Raziah is still trying to recover her lost note, an old lady helps Raziah out by listening to her problem, she then comforts Raziah, helps her in finding the note.

As the story progresses, the shop-owner of the shop right next to the shop in whose cellar Raziah’s note has fallen down, helps Raziah too. He attempts to get the note from the cellar for her, then in a later scene, even lends Raziah and her brother the metal rod (used for closing down shutters of shop) so that they can try removing the note with the help of the hook at the end of the rod. Then even, after the unsuccessful attempts of Raziah and her brother to remove the note from the cellar, the shop-owner also gives her brother the address of the person who owned the shop where Raziah’s note had fallen.

The shop-owner of the shop in whose cellar Raziah’s note had dropped also does his bit for helping Raziah and her brother out. On being approached by Raziah’s brother at his home, he gets ready and comes from his home to his shop to open his shop just so that the two kids can recover their lost note.

Role of men and women in society: The movie portrays a poor household, to which Raziah belongs. Her father seems to be very strict. In the beginning scene, when her father is in the shower, he asks his son to get a shampoo bottle. When as a mistake, his son brings soap instead, the father is furious. He throws the soap out of the window. This can be interpreted as that the men in this culture have the liberty of exhibiting such anger. It could also mean that just Raziah’s father as an individual is a bad-tempered person. This shows the dominance of males in this society.

Seeing her husband’s anger, Raziah’s mother, doesn’t get angry nor does she fight with her husband or retaliate for behaving that way, instead she gives her son some money to go and get the correct shampoo this time. This could mean two things that either just Raziah’s mother as an individual has good temperament or it could mean that women in Iran are not supposed to argue or raise their voice against their husbands- they are just supposed to follow orders- in which case it would mean that this is an accepted pattern of behavior in this culture.

Respect for elders: In the movie, in the scene where the elderly tailor argues with his customer about the stitching of a shirt, it can be sensed that the elder person has more command in the argument.

Which shows that the people of this culture value age and experience of people a lot.

Laws: Another account of the bad temper that Raziah’s father shows is the scene where Raziah’s brother is shown with a black eye. Which means that he was hit by his father for some mistake that he committed. Which also brings forth another aspect of children’s’ rights! It shows that there aren’t many rules governing child abuse in that culture.

- What is the source of conflict in this film?

This story brings out the underlined facts about the lives of children and the anxieties of everyday life which sometimes lead to conflicts between their desires and the reality of life. In The White Balloon the source of conflict is a little girl's desperate desire for a plump goldfish. The little girl- Raziah somehow with the help of her brother wheedles her mother into giving her money for buying the goldfish. She is also instructed strictly to bring back the remaining change of money, since the money given to her was a huge amount in the form of a currency note. Raziah loses the note in a cellar of a shop on her way to the goldfish shop. Which leads to anxious moments for her and her brother, who desperately need the note to return it to their parents.

- How is the conflict resolved?

Once Raziah gets her money back, she rushes to the goldfish store to buy the goldfish. The movie ends right there. It is not shown if she really buys the chubby goldfish or the skinny one. But the conflict is certainly resolved, when her desire to get the goldfish is fulfilled. Because now she no more faces any anxiety or fear of not getting to buy the goldfish.

- Who has the most power or prestige in this culture? Why?

In this particular culture, men have the most power and prestige whereas children have the least, especially girl children have the least privileges.

In this culture men have the most power and prestige. It is clearly evident in the beginning scene where Raziah’s father is furious with his son’s mistake. It clearly shows the privilege that men have when it comes to showing anger. But Raziah’s mother does not seem to have any such privileges…

Power and prestige rests more with elder men than it does younger men in this culture. This can be seen in the scene where the elder shop-keeper argues with his young customer about his shirt. Finally the young man has to give in.

It is also evident in the rules that Raziah has to stick to about not going to certain places like seeing the snake-charmer’s act, going to the marketplace alone. Her mother says that it is not an appropriate place for girls to be- which means that males have more privileges over females, in this particular culture.

Then again, women are restricted through their dress codes. In the scene with Raziah and the friendly soldier, Raziah keeps straightening her frock, this clearly shows the rules that have been inculcated in her mind, even at the age of seven! Although Raziah does, she does not have the privilege of wearing her new dress until new year celebrations in their family.

Word Count: 1978

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