Blending Iranian and Indian mythologies, animated film ‘Jamshid’ tells a morbidly beautiful tale

Most civilisations are based on the foundation of some strong stories – be it myths, legends, folklores or epics, there’s nothing more powerful in the world than a good story. It’s a story that resonates beyond borders and has the power to transform as well as bind cultures. Jamshid: A Lament for a Myth is one such story that brings together the Iranian and Indian mythologies together blending two cultures seamlessly. Created and directed by independent animator, Moin Samadi based out of Tehran, Jamshid is based on Persian mythology, and an old Persian king named Jamshid. The name Jamshid means ‘Twin of the Sun’ and has similarities with India’s lord of death and justice, Yama (Yamraj).  Both Samadi along with his teammate Mehdi Albeygi, who has been working together for a decade now, went through extensive research on Persian culture and its manuscripts, where Jamshid is referred to as a King in some scripts, and a sinner in others. They also referred to the Rig Veda for inspiration and facts. Jamshid: A Lament for a Myth was screened in India at TASI’s Anifest 2019 in December. Speaking to AnimationXpress, Samadi shared, “Jamshid is one of the most famous characters in Iranian culture, and we have lots of different stories about him from different historical periods. So zeroing down onto a common picture out of all the versions, was impossible for me. Thus, I decided to reborn and reimagine the character to retell the story or myth. I studied every version of the story and from them sculpted my story of Jamshid: The Lament for a Myth out of them.  Initially, I thought Yama from Indian Myth is absolutely another character to Jamshid but after a deeper look at the ancient scripts, I realized that the roots are the same. There are lots of wonderful similarities between two mythologies, like – Jamshid in Pahlavi (ancient Persian language) is ‘Yam ’the king of the above-ground (living creatures) , Yama on the other hand is the king of the underground, but the interesting thing is a story about Yam or Jamshid in which he leads all the living creatures to an underground building to survive from a very long and hard winter. So there are lots of differences and similarities!” For the visual representation, they decided not to reveal Jamshid’s face and never use his close up in the film, to keep him as mysterious as he is, as he necessarily he may not be a person, but a mindset or an ideology. Inspired by Kurosawa’s Throne of Blood (1957) and ancient cave paintings, Samadi and Alibeygi chose silhouette and grey tones to heighten its mystical undertone. It took them four months to create characters with clay for which they referred to Ballet for movement. Then they moved on to storyboarding, animatics, reels and music by Milad Movahedi Jamshid: The Lament for a Myth is divided into four chapters – Be Chosen, Be King, Survive and Be Dead. The animated film has been shot on vertical screen throughout which was a conscious decision to put Jamshid’s world between two worlds of good and evil. “After I wrote the story and a draft of the screenplay, we started creating a visual concept with Faraz Shanyar and received a visual bible for the film. Hadi Tabasi animated Jamshid in Photoshop, but the challenge was to animate the characters in silhouette and the negative space of the chapters became very important to recognise their acts so we used theatrical performance as the main reference for the animation. At the post production, we have the other challenge to composite numerous black layers of backgrounds, characters, and effects together without using colors. Saeid Gholizade made us a foggy 3D atmosphere in the Nuke to arrange the layers and separating them with the colourful lights. In the end, we rebuild the music and add some vocal parts as a lament from Avesta (oldest Persian manuscript) which told Jamshid’s story. For the music, we wanted to use ancient persian music and recorded it in the studio. But for a low budget, we recorded with an orchestra. I learned a lot during this project and I think as filmmakers, we are lucky to have the chance of learning, creating and enjoying,” added Samadi. Samadi, Alibeygi and their team barely got any support from the industry or the Government in Iran. Rather they had to clarify a lot of things when these animators seeked help in funding. Despite all these, these content creators and animators tell powerful stories and find solace in the mere process of creating it and showing it to a large scale of audience.