Nosrat Karimi - Biography

Director, Actor, Scriptwriter, and Sculptor  


Nosrat Karimi (born 1925) is a renowned personality in the Iranian history of theater and cinema. He began his career as make-up artist and actor in Tehran, where he played numerous roles in various theaters. Then he studied film direction in Prague and worked thereafter as an assistant director and actor in Rome. Returning to Tehran, Karimi worked as a filmmaker. He made a number of movies and TV films gaining fame in Iran. He also taught as professor at the art academies of Tehran. In the later years of his artistic work, Nosrat Karimi made numerous sculptures, which have been exhibited nationally and internationally. In addition, he wrote books about theater and cinema.

Early Life

Nosrat Karimi was born in 1925 in Tehran. Even as a child, he had a bent for the arts. He was fascinated by the traditional comic actors and Persian clowns, whom he could admire at family ceremonies. At the age of six, he watched the movies of Charlie Chaplin and was captivated by the figure of the poor vagabond, who refused to be beaten by the trials of life. Quickly Karimi learned to imitate Chaplin and found his first audience amongst his relatives.   

At the age of nine, he gained his first experiences with the art of make-up. His oldest brother, Ali Karimi, recognized Nosrat's liking for acting and encouraged him in this direction. At the age of ten, he made a bust of the famous Persian poet Ferdowsi, for which he was awarded a respected prize.

Artistic Background

After finishing primary school, Nosrat Karimi attended the German Polytechnic Institute in Tehran. After three years i. e. from 1938 to 1941 he studied dramatic art, make-up and stage design at the only theater school existing at that time in Tehran. His most important teacher and mentor was the eminent theater actor and director Abdolhossein Noushin. He is still regarded as the founder of modern Iranian theater. From 1940 onwards, Karimi worked as actor, make-up artist, and as stage designer, in various Tehran's theaters. In 1944, he joined the Group Noushin, remaining a member until 1952. Amongst others, he performed in the plays "The Chocolate Vendor" and "Eugenie Grandet".  

At the beginning of 1953, Nosrat Karimi traveled to Italy. In Rome, he became acquainted with famous Italian neo-realistic directors Luchino Visconti and Vittorio De Sica. Their  films made quite an impression on him. After a while, Karimi traveled further to Vienna and finally to Prague. There he studied film direction and TV production, specializing in puppet and animation movies. His most important teacher at The Academy of Arts in Prague was Karl Zeman, the famous Czech animation artist. After studying in Prague, he returned to Rome and stayed there for three years. He worked as assistant director for De Sica, performed on the stage, appeared in musicals, and dubbed a number of Italian movies for distribution in Iran. Karimi lived almost twelve years in Europe.

Professional  Career

Nosrat Karimi returned to Tehran in 1964. After a few filming experiments with the commercial cinema, he was engaged in 1965 by The Ministry of Art and Culture to run a state workshop for animated cartoons. During this time, he made a number of short films that won local and international awards, among them: "The Life", actually the first Persian cartoon; and "King Jamshid", a fairy tale from Ferdowsi’s Schah-Nameh (Book of the Kings), the national epic of Iran.  

In the same period, Karimi produced two TV series: "Mr. Plaintiff", a puppet show and "The Marriage", a twenty-part family series about married life. Through these popular series, Karimi became known to a wide section of society of Iran. A little later, he began his activity as professor at The Faculty of Fine Arts at Tehran University, as well as at The Academy of the Dramatic Arts, where he taught different art styles.   

In 1969, Karimi began shooting the movie "The Thief and the Policeman" - a Persian adaptation of the story of cops and robbers. However, having finished the film for the most part, he gave up the direction due to interference from the producer. In the same year, the British director Terence Young shot the film "Poppy is also a Flower". He engaged Karimi as make-up artist for his lead Yul Bryner and other actors.

Feature Films and TV Series    

From 1971 to 1973, Nosrat Karimi made three feature films: "The Carriage Driver", "The Solution" and "A Bed for Three" where he not only acted as director, but also wrote the film scripts and played the major roles. In these movies, Karimi tells with wit and irony three stories, which together form a trilogy inspired by Italian Neorealism. The focal point is the life of average citizens with all their problems, big and small. Strait-jacketed in the fetters of tradition and intolerance, the protagonists get into apparently hopeless situations. However, listening to reason, in the end they find a solution.   

"The Carriage Driver" was a great success and went down well with the critics. This movie in which his son Babak Karimi also has a role was chosen as the Iranian contribution for international film festivals. However, the film authorities banned it. Only years later, could the film be performed in European film archives.  "The Solution" was an exceptional success, showing for many weeks at several movie theaters simultaneously. This was the film that made Karimi a celebrity overnight. In contrast, "A Bed for Three" enjoyed only moderate success, although it followed on from the subject matter of the first two films. Karimi's fame and great success resulted in attractive offers from many producers. Thus in the 1970s he played in a number of commercial films that were directed by others. He also played a supporting role in a Japanese-Iranian co-production. In 1975, the filmmaker made his fourth and last movie "The Miserable One". The film, a satire about the real estate speculation in the 1970s in Tehran, went down well and received notable reviews.
In 1976, Karimi played one of the main characters of the TV series "My Uncle Napoleon". This is regarded as the most successful series ever run on Iranian television. A year later, the artist produced the TV series "Khosro Mirsa II". This 16-part series, a grotesque comedy about an aristocratic family, was to be unintentionally his last work for a long period. He then wrote another film script and was preparing his next movie. However, for the time being film production was stopped during the revolutionary years 1978/79 in Iran. 

Later Works    

After the formation of The Islamic Republic, Nosrat Karimi was barred  from working as a filmmaker. In this time, he made many mimic-sculptures which were shown in numerous exhibitions. 1987, Karimi was allowed to perform a puppet piece again: "The Uninvited Visitor". Then, he made the animated cartoon "Playmate". In 1996/97, he produced the puppet show "Unruly" as a TV series. His other later works include the production of a series of short TV films about pollution control, as well as books about the art. He recently honored Abdolhossein Noushin his mentor and the father of modern Iranian theater by writing a book about his life.  

Nosrat Karimi, now ninety years old, lives together with his wife Parvin Teimuri in Tehran.