Comic character in the puppet theatre of Iran. With his black face and red costume, Mobarak appears in two kinds of performances: as an actor in the ruhowzi, a kind of Iranian commedia dell’arte, and in the Haji va Mobarak (Haji and Mobarak), a style of glove puppetry of Isfahan in which the puppeteer stood manipulating the puppets; and, above all, as a puppet in the Shah Salim bazi (Shah Salim play), also called kheimeh shab bazi (puppet booth play). This performance of string puppets was found especially in the north near Tehran and Tabriz, and in the east of the country.
Mobarak is an Arabic name and means happy and blessed. This character, with the black face of an African or Arab servant, gradually became the main character of kheimeh shab bazi and ruhowzi. Such faces as Mobarak’s can also be found in old Persian miniatures (paintings). The spoken Farsi of these servant characters was very comical, and so the performers took advantage of this for dramatic purposes. With their red clothing and black faces, the comic effect was highlighted. In time, these servant characters would rule the stage, proving that the use of the black face did not imply racism.
The Iranian marionette show features this black servant who, though of African origin, speaks Persian. He often uses words in an inappropriate and humorous way. Mobarak is cunning, big-hearted, and always ready to denounce dishonesty and fight the wicked and unjust as he banters with his master, the morshed (literally, “spiritual leader”, the leader-director of the play and medium between the puppet’s world and that of the audience). Undisciplined, mocking, and aggressive, Mobarak does not hesitate to confide in the morshed, who sits outside the puppet booth and interacts with each character. Mobarak may go so far as to urinate on the morshed for blows this narrator/backchat gives him. Mobarak is in love with a beautiful palace dancer. He exposes the hypocrisy of Shah Salim and the powerful. Mobarak represents the voice of the common person in the face of injustice and affectation.
- Chodzko, Alexandre. Le Théâtre en Perse [Theatre in Persia]. Paris, 1878; rpt., 1944.
- Floor, Willem. The History of Theater in Iran. Washington: Mage Publishers, 2005.
- Janati Ataie, Abolghasem. The Basis of Theatre in Iran. Tehran, 1954.
- Rezvani, Medjid. Le Théâtre et la Danse en Iran [Theatre and Dance in Iran]. Paris: Maisonneuve et Larose, 1962 (rpt. of 1912).