Author: Allanna LESKENLI
Pandemic. Quarantine. The cultural life of the whole world paused. Events dedicated to the 75th anniversary of the Victory Day were also cancelled. Meanwhile, a short sketch made for the national television channel AzTV and based on the famous poem by Suleyman Rustam, Mother and Postman, blew up the Azerbaijani social networks.
The project run by the Honoured Artist of Azerbaijan, Editor-in-Chief of Feature Films and Dubbing Department of AzTV, Etibar Babayev, aroused a great interest among the Azerbaijani audience, including not only the older generation of Azerbaijanis but also the age category 17+ (!). Just on time!
Written in 1942, the poem has soon become proverbial due to its emotional content, which reflected the essence of developments in literally every household, every family during the World War II. It was difficult to find any Azerbaijani who did not know or could not quote Suleyman Rustam. It would have been regarded as bad form if one did not know the Postman, as people usually called the poem. The actress of the Russian Drama Theatre, Vera Karlovna Shirye, was a real-life embodiment of the main character, Mother. From June 26, 1941 to June 1945, she performed the poem at various concerts on the front-line, reading the verses both in Russian and Azerbaijani so well and emotional that she was nicknamed the Postman. The other reason was that she often used to bring letters from the front-line and would personally take them to the homes of those whose relatives were fighting with the enemy. One could here them calling her ‘Hey, Postman’ as she walked along the street. Thus, the short feature film Mother and Postman is our tribute to those times, a small token of gratitude to our grandfathers and great-grandfathers, grandmothers and great-grandmothers who could survive and preserve the future and freedom for us. The interest to the film in social networks suggests that the topic is still relevant and important.
There were no military operations in Baku, but even as the home-front, the city and its residents were doing their best 24 hours a day to support the thousands of Soviet troopers fighting against Nazism and to bring the V-Day closer every passing day. Best means everything, including by sacrificing their lives both at home and on the front line.
Together with Rustam’s immortal poem, the authors of the sketch (written by Etibar Babayev and directed by Elnur Mammadov) take us back to those cruel yet happy times as well. The times of nobility and heroic deeds, high ideals and ambitious goals, spiritual values and moral laws. Here we are in one of the districts of Baku, where all women and children share the same joy and sadness of routine life regardless of their national or religious background. So typical of Baku! We can see the female heroes, impatiently waiting for their sons and husbands back from the war, and the men fighting on the front line. They represent the heroic people of Azerbaijan, who together with the other peoples of the Soviet Union became victorious in 1945! Behind the scenes does the famous story of Mother, waiting for letters from her son, and Postman, who took upon himself all the grief of the Azerbaijani wartime women, reveals slowly with the voice of the National Artist Rasim Balayev. On behalf of Suleyman Rustam, he tells us not only the story of the Mother, but also the story of the Postman. Actors do not pronounce texts. They simply live the fate of their heroes, having been immersed in the circumstances of the Great Patriotic War. Moving from one episode to another, the actors convince us that a role without a text can be much more expressive, interesting and emotional than any spoken word. Unless, of course, the true masters of craft work on the set. The role of the Mother was played by the National Artist Hamida Omarova (H.O.). Postman was played by the National Artist Mabud Maharramov (M.M.). This kind of creative experiment is extremely rare in the professional practice of actors, so we had questions:
Did the lack of text of your characters help or hinder your work?
M.M.: It triggered creativity! It was a drive, tuning us up for a good rehearsal mood. We really enjoyed the atmosphere on the set, which was very positive and pleasant. Perhaps that’s why my Postman seems to be going through a karmic test with the situation and circumstances. He sadly accepts the tears and grief of women and carries this as a burden of human responsibility. He understands that the Fate chose him for the tragic role of a messenger, who often brings bad news. It is very difficult to create a character of someone who feels empathy to another person’s pain and suffering, but does not utter a word at the same time. This was an interesting professional experience for me in terms of the means of expression, professional self-expression, and my interaction with partners. My thanks go to Hamida Omarova. She is a wonderful partner. I also express my gratitude to our director Elnur Mammadov, who could create an excellent creative atmosphere on the set. Young directors seldom can be on the same wave with the entire crew and the actors.
H.O.: No, it didn’t prevent us from what we wanted to do. Close-ups are a usual and familiar trick in cinema. In recent years, I starred in TV shows more than in big movies. My last experience in a big screen movie was in Be a Man two years ago. Starring in Mother and Postman was indeed something I very much liked professionally. I was happy to get an offer to work for a film based on Suleyman Rustam’s poem. Actually, I enjoyed reading his other poems too when I was a kid. These verses are very touching and do not leave anyone indifferent. Because they are about the real life of the people of Baku people during the Great Patriotic War. Rustam brilliantly expressed his ideas in his own poetic manner. Through these verses, the life gains the power of piercing emotion, which is transmitted from Mother to the reader, listener, and viewer. Mother and Postman was a short film, but the atmosphere on the set was exactly the same as in the big movie. The coordinated actions and preparedness of the entire film crew, including the director, cameramen, make-up artists, gaffers, absolutely everyone, created a joyful atmosphere of co-creation, the willingness of everyone to work with full dedication! It was a joy to work our talented actor Mabud Maharramov. I have heard that the audience imagined Mother and Postman exactly as they saw our characters on the screen. I think as partners, we absolutely complemented each other on the set. Even without words, we could play our characters the way they both were convincing to our viewers as well...
Soviet classics and Time
We will not retell the content of the poem. We believe that most Azerbaijanis, if not all, know it by heart. For those who do not, let’s rephrase the plot. This is a story of the Mother, who has not received letters from her son, a front-line soldier, for four months. She pours all her anger onto the Postman, who does not delivers letters to her house any more. But he does not feel offended, as he understands the Mother’s anxiety. Mother regrets what she said to the Postman. And when the long-awaited letter arrives, everyone is happy: Mother, Postman, and neighbours. After all, they have one thing in common: grief, joy, and genuine empathy. In Elnur Mammadov’s adaptation for TV, we see a sketch of Time so familiar to us from the general history of our country and the works of our writers and poets. That time was special: no separation, mutual visits to homes, spiritual need for communication. The time when the children playing in the yard were not divided into “friends” and “strangers”, and they shared the piece of bread equally among all.
The history of Mother and Postman is the history of the country and its people; the history of our grandfathers and us as well. Suleyman Rustam captured not only the portrait of Time in which he lived, preserving important and necessary details for the future generation, but also a portrait of his people - courageous and strong, able to endure all the hardships and challenges of the time.
The theme of war is a depiction of the state of mind of the people, a theme that must be preserved in time. For the sake of the future and present generations. For the sake of the living and the fallen. Perhaps today, when we are living through the pandemic, this theme is regaining popularity and is becoming relevant as never before. And the movie, which went on air on May 9, sounded like a message to all of us, living in self-isolation due to the pandemic. Message from the distant 1940s: this too shall pass...