The truth is not always on the surface

753

BY RAYA ABBASOVA

AZERI OBSERVER CONTRIBUTOR

The outstanding actor, People’s Artist of Azerbaijan, and darling of the public, Rasim Balayev has starred in the leading roles of more than 60 Azerbaijani films. Being from a rural area, he became famous after his part in three movies and participation in two film festivals: the 7th Soviet Festival in Baku and the 3rd International Festival in Tashkent where he received an award for Best Actor and several proposals for leading roles in future films. Among his best performances are the films Nasimi, Babek, The Scoundrel, Anecdote, and The Bat.

Question: All of your roles are so versatile, how have you managed to portray such different characters?

Answer: At the start of my professional career, I stumbled onto an interview with a famous Soviet actor, where the interviewer openly said: “All your characters are so similar.” So, I always tried to avoid this phrase and got rid of the emotional aura of the played roles.

Q.: Despite many brilliantly played negative characters, you are better known for your positive roles. Which of them are easier to play?

A.: If a playwright professionally portrayed a negative character, such a part gives more space for an actor’s skills. So, why not play it? Are there any exceptionally good or bad people in the world? Sometimes, when you start to learn a ‘negative’ role which you are assigned, you find so many implicit and veiled facets! With this non-straightforward interpretation, the character acquires a completely ambiguous image enriched with plenty of emotional colors. It’s generally accepted that musicians are co-authors of the music they perform. I am sure that it is legitimate to transfer this thesis to actors too.

Q.: In theory it is easy, but in practice, it is unbelievable how one actor can portray such diametrically opposite characters: Nasimi, Babek,swindler Davud from “Istanbul! Istanbul!,” or two-faced Sadjar from “Room in a Hotel” who joins human virtues and vices.

A.: I saw such “Davuds” with my own eyes in the difficult period when our country was “ruled” by the Popular Front. They covered their true intentions with big words about “love” for the Motherland and I tried to portray a generalized character with the main features of these pretenders with their ugly souls in the film “Istanbul! Istanbul!” by Rasim Ojagov. “Room in a Hotel,” also directed by Rasim Ojagov and based on the novel by our respected writer Anar, in turn, touches on the burning problem – the prosperity of pseudoscience and its ‘representatives.’ We have a lot of worthy scientists. But I also know pseudoscience opportunists who managed to get into the scientific community by hook or crook, and I played one of them in the film. There was also a character of a real scholar– Turkologist, who stood by his moral principles. It is a character of actor Fahraddin Manafov. But what do we see? The life of the righteous person is an endless series of troubles, and the success is on the other side. The truth is not always on the surface.

Q.: Does it mean that the real life is a source of inspiration for you?

A.: If we speak about the present or recent periods, then yes. But when I played the characters that made our history, it was another issue. Let’s take Babek, a leader of a struggle against the Arab Caliphate. I read a lot of sources describing his personality. A peaceful shepherd, Babek, seeing the outrages committed by the Arab conquerors, headed a popular uprising to restore justice and protect innocent people. He was forced to become a warrior, and hence his inner world is ambiguous.

Q.: More than forty years ago you brilliantly played a medieval rebel poet in the “Nasimi” film by Hasan Seyidbeyli. How did the role of such an important person in the world of poetry influence your life?

A.: Many people are confused by Nasimi’s categorical statement: “I am a God!” In the Soviet period, Nasimi was represented as an atheist, but this is a complete delusion. Nasimi was a believer – you can hear the love of the Lord in his gazelle poems, he wrote about the omnipotence, wisdom, and mercy of the Creator. At the same time, he wrote “I am the creation of the world, and I am the Creator,” or “God is in me and I am a God.” Many people asked themselves a difficult question on what he spoke about and tried to understand Nasimi’s philosophical poetry. In my opinion, he spoke first about the high responsibility of a person to himself and his conscience.

While working on the film, we were in contact with orientalist Ali Fahmy, who was invited as film a consultant. He showed a parallel between the verses of Nasimia and Ayahs in the Quran, stressing that the poet did not consider himself to be Allah, and all the comparisons with God pursued the goal of the exaltation of man. According to Fahmy, the key to understanding the philosophy of Nasimi, the martyr of great ideas and symbol of courage, nobility, and loyalty to his beliefs, was that “We mortals are not allowed to contemplate the God, but we must honor ourselves as a God.”

Q.: What did you feel when your character, Nasimi, was skinned alive? I know that some people, sharing their impressions about the film, doubted that a person can declaim poems while being skinned alive.

A.: It is known that Nasimi was executed in the city of Aleppo (Syria) for disseminating the ideas of Hurufism. Adherents of this ideology believed that God is in a man himself, and a man is the manifestation of God. The poet asserted that every person is free, great, and divine; and should love the Universe, what is equal to the love of God. I started to learn the history of the Nasimi period, the philosophy of the Hurufites in order to feel and understand the deep meaning of his poems. It was very interesting to read the historical novel “Judgment Day” by Isa Huseynov (Mughanna) on which the Nasimi film was based. Coming back to your question, I can confess that it was difficult to play the episode of the execution. I had to show not only suffering but also pride and confidence that the beliefs of my character are veritable and rightful. Words cannot convey what I felt in my soul. In line with the idea of the film director, when the poet fell silent for a moment to overcome unbearable pain, people at the square continued declaiming his poems. The harmonious voice of the people, perhaps, contributed to the strength and courage of this great martyr, dying from terrible torture.

Q.: You were awarded a title of Honored Artist of Azerbaijan when you were 28 years old. So, your career was successful from the very beginning. Do you believe in destiny?

A.: I got the title thanks to Heydar Aliyev, who headed the Azerbaijan Communist Party at that time. I know that he got the list of the cultural figures nominated for the title for approval. My name was not on the list and Heydar Aliyev asked, “Where is Balayev?” Then, six years later I was awarded the title.

I do believe in destiny to some extent. But at the same time, I have never been idle. Public recognition is a result of hard work, sleepless nights, and severe nervous strain. It is what I do. My profession brought me fame and respect. All the Soviet Union watched the films in which I starred. I received many letters from all over the country. Now, it is a territory of 15 countries!

Q.: Do you keep letters from enthusiastic female fans?

A.: My family moved three or four times from one apartment to another. So, some things were lost, and I got rid of some other things, but I still kept some letters. About eight years ago, when I was a member of the jury at the Moscow International Film Festival, one woman approached me and asked, “Did you play Nasimi?” When I said yes, she confessed that she had watched that film many times and sent me many letters. I asked her how she recognized me after so many years and her answer was, “By your eyes.” So, I am well preserved if we speak about the eyes, they are the mirror of the soul (he said with a smile).

I will tell you another funny story too – one-time, many years ago, I saw “Sovetskiy Ekran” (Soviet Screen) magazine with my portrait on the cover in a newsstand in the Moscow Airport. The seller did not recognize me and was surprised when I asked for 20 copies of the magazine. But when I said that it is me on the cover, he looked closely and gave me the copies and I brought them back to Baku.

Q.: You said that you moved from one apartment to another three or four times. Was it an urge for a change of place or were you forced to move due to circumstances?

A.: This story begins in 1970 when I married at the age of 22. Now, after 48 years we are still together. Sometimes I am joking that I have never lived for myself. However, our first son was born when I was 23, and the second one came a year after. Our sons did not become actors, they built careers in other spheres, and frankly speaking, I am happy with that. After marriage, my wife and I rented an apartment. Then we got three rooms in a shared apartment where we lived for seven years.

One day when we shot “Babek,” the film set was attended by high officials, including the chairman of the Azerbaijan Supreme Council, Gurban Khalilov. He approached me to see the sword of my character and I used this opportunity to tell him about my apartment. The problem was solved with the help of Heydar Aliyev. Our esteemed President Ilham Aliyev pays the same special attention to the cultural figures and their housing conditions. Such attention means a lot!

Q.: These words show that you appreciate a kind attitude. If you are faced with a bad attitude, is it easy for you to forget the offense?

A.: No, I cannot forget it. I can do nothing with myself – I do not want to see or hear from any bad and dishonest people.

Q.: People say that you have an extremely delicate sense of humor and quick wit. Is this true?

A.: (With a smile) If people say it, then, probably, it is true. From my own experience, I know that after my 40th birthday anniversary, time becomes extremely ruthless – it flies without looking back at your desires, unrealized plans and hopes. But we must try to slow it down and continue dreaming and striving for new creative achievements. I have a long-cherished dream to play a tragicomic character, and I do not lose hope to realize it. The more I live, the better I understand the wise advice of Confucius, which I will share with you with pleasure: “Three things never come back – time, word, and opportunity. Therefore, do not waste time, choose your words carefully, and do not miss an opportunity.”

Question: All of your roles are so versatile, how have you managed to portray such different characters?

Answer: At the start of my professional career, I stumbled onto an interview with a famous Soviet actor, where the interviewer openly said: “All your characters are so similar.” So, I always tried to avoid this phrase and got rid of the emotional aura of the played roles.

Q.: Despite many brilliantly played negative characters, you are better known for your positive roles. Which of them are easier to play?

A.: If a playwright professionally portrayed a negative character, such a part gives more space for an actor’s skills. So, why not play it? Are there any exceptionally good or bad people in the world? Sometimes, when you start to learn a ‘negative’ role which you are assigned, you find so many implicit and veiled facets! With this non-straightforward interpretation, the character acquires a completely ambiguous image enriched with plenty of emotional colors. It’s generally accepted that musicians are co-authors of the music they perform. I am sure that it is legitimate to transfer this thesis to actors too.

Q.: In theory it is easy, but in practice, it is unbelievable how one actor can portray such diametrically opposite characters: Nasimi, Babek,swindler Davud from “Istanbul! Istanbul!,” or two-faced Sadjar from “Room in a Hotel” who joins human virtues and vices.

A.: I saw such “Davuds” with my own eyes in the difficult period when our country was “ruled” by the Popular Front. They covered their true intentions with big words about “love” for the Motherland and I tried to portray a generalized character with the main features of these pretenders with their ugly souls in the film “Istanbul! Istanbul!” by Rasim Ojagov. “Room in a Hotel,” also directed by Rasim Ojagov and based on the novel by our respected writer Anar, in turn, touches on the burning problem – the prosperity of pseudoscience and its ‘representatives.’ We have a lot of worthy scientists. But I also know pseudoscience opportunists who managed to get into the scientific community by hook or crook, and I played one of them in the film. There was also a character of a real scholar– Turkologist, who stood by his moral principles. It is a character of actor Fahraddin Manafov. But what do we see? The life of the righteous person is an endless series of troubles, and the success is on the other side. The truth is not always on the surface.

Q.: Does it mean that the real life is a source of inspiration for you?

A.: If we speak about the present or recent periods, then yes. But when I played the characters that made our history, it was another issue. Let’s take Babek, a leader of a struggle against the Arab Caliphate. I read a lot of sources describing his personality. A peaceful shepherd, Babek, seeing the outrages committed by the Arab conquerors, headed a popular uprising to restore justice and protect innocent people. He was forced to become a warrior, and hence his inner world is ambiguous.

Q.: More than forty years ago you brilliantly played a medieval rebel poet in the “Nasimi” film by Hasan Seyidbeyli. How did the role of such an important person in the world of poetry influence your life?

A.: Many people are confused by Nasimi’s categorical statement: “I am a God!” In the Soviet period, Nasimi was represented as an atheist, but this is a complete delusion. Nasimi was a believer – you can hear the love of the Lord in his gazelle poems, he wrote about the omnipotence, wisdom, and mercy of the Creator. At the same time, he wrote “I am the creation of the world, and I am the Creator,” or “God is in me and I am a God.” Many people asked themselves a difficult question on what he spoke about and tried to understand Nasimi’s philosophical poetry. In my opinion, he spoke first about the high responsibility of a person to himself and his conscience.

While working on the film, we were in contact with orientalist Ali Fahmy, who was invited as film a consultant. He showed a parallel between the verses of Nasimia and Ayahs in the Quran, stressing that the poet did not consider himself to be Allah, and all the comparisons with God pursued the goal of the exaltation of man. According to Fahmy, the key to understanding the philosophy of Nasimi, the martyr of great ideas and symbol of courage, nobility, and loyalty to his beliefs, was that “We mortals are not allowed to contemplate the God, but we must honor ourselves as a God.”

Q.: What did you feel when your character, Nasimi, was skinned alive? I know that some people, sharing their impressions about the film, doubted that a person can declaim poems while being skinned alive.

A.: It is known that Nasimi was executed in the city of Aleppo (Syria) for disseminating the ideas of Hurufism. Adherents of this ideology believed that God is in a man himself, and a man is the manifestation of God. The poet asserted that every person is free, great, and divine; and should love the Universe, what is equal to the love of God. I started to learn the history of the Nasimi period, the philosophy of the Hurufites in order to feel and understand the deep meaning of his poems. It was very interesting to read the historical novel “Judgment Day” by Isa Huseynov (Mughanna) on which the Nasimi film was based. Coming back to your question, I can confess that it was difficult to play the episode of the execution. I had to show not only suffering but also pride and confidence that the beliefs of my character are veritable and rightful. Words cannot convey what I felt in my soul. In line with the idea of the film director, when the poet fell silent for a moment to overcome unbearable pain, people at the square continued declaiming his poems. The harmonious voice of the people, perhaps, contributed to the strength and courage of this great martyr, dying from terrible torture.

Q.: You were awarded a title of Honored Artist of Azerbaijan when you were 28 years old. So, your career was successful from the very beginning. Do you believe in destiny?

A.: I got the title thanks to Heydar Aliyev, who headed the Azerbaijan Communist Party at that time. I know that he got the list of the cultural figures nominated for the title for approval. My name was not on the list and Heydar Aliyev asked, “Where is Balayev?” Then, six years later I was awarded the title.

I do believe in destiny to some extent. But at the same time, I have never been idle. Public recognition is a result of hard work, sleepless nights, and severe nervous strain. It is what I do. My profession brought me fame and respect. All the Soviet Union watched the films in which I starred. I received many letters from all over the country. Now, it is a territory of 15 countries!

Q.: Do you keep letters from enthusiastic female fans?

A.: My family moved three or four times from one apartment to another. So, some things were lost, and I got rid of some other things, but I still kept some letters. About eight years ago, when I was a member of the jury at the Moscow International Film Festival, one woman approached me and asked, “Did you play Nasimi?” When I said yes, she confessed that she had watched that film many times and sent me many letters. I asked her how she recognized me after so many years and her answer was, “By your eyes.” So, I am well preserved if we speak about the eyes, they are the mirror of the soul (he said with a smile).

I will tell you another funny story too – one-time, many years ago, I saw “Sovetskiy Ekran” (Soviet Screen) magazine with my portrait on the cover in a newsstand in the Moscow Airport. The seller did not recognize me and was surprised when I asked for 20 copies of the magazine. But when I said that it is me on the cover, he looked closely and gave me the copies and I brought them back to Baku.

Q.: You said that you moved from one apartment to another three or four times. Was it an urge for a change of place or were you forced to move due to circumstances?

A.: This story begins in 1970 when I married at the age of 22. Now, after 48 years we are still together. Sometimes I am joking that I have never lived for myself. However, our first son was born when I was 23, and the second one came a year after. Our sons did not become actors, they built careers in other spheres, and frankly speaking, I am happy with that. After marriage, my wife and I rented an apartment. Then we got three rooms in a shared apartment where we lived for seven years.

One day when we shot “Babek,” the film set was attended by high officials, including the chairman of the Azerbaijan Supreme Council, Gurban Khalilov. He approached me to see the sword of my character and I used this opportunity to tell him about my apartment. The problem was solved with the help of Heydar Aliyev. Our esteemed President Ilham Aliyev pays the same special attention to the cultural figures and their housing conditions. Such attention means a lot!

Q.: These words show that you appreciate a kind attitude. If you are faced with a bad attitude, is it easy for you to forget the offense?

A.: No, I cannot forget it. I can do nothing with myself – I do not want to see or hear from any bad and dishonest people.

Q.: People say that you have an extremely delicate sense of humor and quick wit. Is this true?

A.: (With a smile) If people say it, then, probably, it is true. From my own experience, I know that after my 40th birthday anniversary, time becomes extremely ruthless – it flies without looking back at your desires, unrealized plans and hopes. But we must try to slow it down and continue dreaming and striving for new creative achievements. I have a long-cherished dream to play a tragicomic character, and I do not lose hope to realize it. The more I live, the better I understand the wise advice of Confucius, which I will share with you with pleasure: “Three things never come back – time, word, and opportunity. Therefore, do not waste time, choose your words carefully, and do not miss an opportunity.”