Inside Move: Pic drives traffic to Iranian Web site

Tehran Avenue riding unprecedented success of hit pic 'Lizard'

Arab Street, meet Tehran Avenue.

A cultural Web ‘zine run by enthusiastic young Iranians, Tehran Avenue offers a window into life inside Iran for those at home and abroad.

Now it’s riding the unprecedented success of hit pic “The Lizard” (Marmoulak) to broader reach and cultural expansion among Iran’s youth.

The film tells the story of Reza, a thief who escapes from prison and disguises himself as a Mullah, then builds a following of worshippers captivated by his sermons containing sexually suggestive jokes. He even references “Brother (Quentin) Tarantino.”

“The film is busting the blocks all over the country, not just in Tehran, mainly because for the first time a Mullah is the base for a comedy,” says Tehran Avenue’s editor-in-chief Sohrab Mehdavi. “A generation of Iranians have grown under their rule and now they can laugh at a Mullah and feel good for a few hours.”

After ramping up coverage of the film following a reader survey, the Tehran Avenue Web site has seen traffic increase to 4,000 hits a day — a modest sum for Western Web sites but impressive for a country whose conservative authorities routinely restrict the liberalization of culture.

The film’s success — and Tehran Avenue’s focus on it — reflect the country’s changing demographics. In Iran, 70% of the population is under the age of 30, and 50% is under 25.

“Almost all Tehran Avenue writers are in their 20s,” says Mehdavi. “They are either students or have just graduated.”

Furthering its youth movement, the Web site even launched a music competition, TA Music Open, to promote Iran’s alternative music scene.

Considering that even dancing is forbidden at public concerts, the initiative was a brave one, using the Internet as a way around censorship.

The site received entries from as far afield as Sweden, France and Canada, and the tracks were ultimately whittled down to a favorite five by Tehran Avenue readers.