Okay. The first thing you need to know about the film "No One Knows about Persian Cats" is that it's not about Persian cats, it's about musicians in Iran, where certain styles of music are illegal and where every performance requires a government permit. The movie was shot in secret in Tehran and it's showing now in the United States, even as a CD of some of the music is on sale.

Pat Dowell reports.

PAT DOWELL: The stars of "No One Knows about Persian Cats" are musicians playing, essentially, themselves.

(Soundbite of music)

DOWELL: The movie takes place on real locations as the musicians try to put together a band, a concert and a trip to England. The director, Bahman Ghobadi, speaking through an interpreter, emphasizes that it is not a documentary.

Mr. BAHMAN GHOBADI (Director, "No One Knows About Persian Cats"): (Through translator) It's very important for me to tell you why I didn't make this a complete documentary. These kids have, within themselves and their real lives, a real drama. It's not like in the West, going on freely and without any repression. They are being repressed, they don't have any concerts, and this, in itself, makes them live a fiction life. And this, in itself, makes the film look like fiction.

DOWELL: Ghobadi, a Kurdish-Iranian, has made documentaries, but his international reputation rests on his four fiction films. Up to now, they dealt with the challenges of everyday life in Kurdish villages. But the young stars of "No One Knows about Persian Cats" are urban Iranians, Ash and Negar, whose band is named Take It Easy Hospital. Ash says that they met Bahman Ghobadi in an illegal recording studio, and that the director and his writers created the film around them.

ASH (Musician, Take it Easy Hospital): Actually, we lived the film, because we had only 17 days to shoot the film. And the reason was that we were invited to this festival and we had to leave Iran. So, Bahman decided to shoot just right away in 17 days.

DOWELL: Much of the movie was shot in Tehran's basement studios and clandestined rehearsal sites.

(Soundbite of music)

DOWELL: A heavy metal band jams in a barn to the dismay of the cows.

(Soundbite of cow mooing)

DOWELL: A rapper shoots a video atop an unfinished office building.

(Soundbite of music)

Unidentified Man: (Singing in foreign language)

DOWELL: Although there is humor in this quest to find some place, any place, to make music, singer and songwriter Negar says that humor was not the predominant feeling of her life in Iran; it was fear.

NEGAR (Singer, Songwriter, Take It Easy Hospital): When you grow up in Iran you learn to have that fear all the time in the back of your head. I remember when I was a kid, whenever the news came on, I would put my hands on my ears to not hear the news because I was always so scared that there is a war that's going to happen and they're going to take us out of our houses. And then you go to school, and the fear that comes from the double life that you're living - one at home and one with the moral laws of school, what they're teaching you - and then you want to break it. So, you always have this fear.

DOWELL: And you get too used to it, says Negar.

"No One Knows about Persian Cats" has an appreciation of the everyday resilience of human endeavor. But what motivates Bahman Ghobadi, he says, is something different.

Mr. GHOBADI: (Through translator) I have a lot of rage when I'm making these films. So, what I do in my films is that I vent, but because I have a lot of optimistic people around me while making the films, this rage becomes positive energy and becomes reflected in my films.

DOWELL: Bahman Ghobadi is blacklisted in Iran and lives as a nomad. He says if he returns to Iran, he'll suffer the same fate as prominent film director Jafar Panahi, who was arrested last month for his opposition to the government. Ghobadi's friend and co-screenwriter, Roxana Saberi, was in prison, briefly, last year.

Mr. GHOBADI: (Through translator) Even if they're kind to me, they will imprison me at home, and they'll take away my passport so that I'll stay home, and I'll never make films, and I'll never travel and I'll become insane.

DOWELL: Ghobadi has managed to get a DVD of "No One Knows about Persian Cats" into Iran, urging supporters to copy and distribute it for free, and tell people to spend their money on the musicians who are still in the country. Ash and Negar now live in London.

(Soundbite of music)

NEGAR: (Singing) I want a clock with hands that don't move. So, everyday will be today and tomorrow is no fear...

DOWELL: For NPR News, this is Pat Dowell.

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