Actors Niv Sultan and Shervin Alenabi talk about how their show has been able to influence opinion and change perception in the aftermath of its airing
An aircraft en route to New Delhi from Jordan is forced to make an emergency landing in Iran. Among the passengers is a pair of couples, travelling for different purposes, but hailing from the same country: Israel.
The first couple is visibly terrified at the thought of having to set foot in Israel while the other seems rather unfazed. Having betrayed the intentions of the two couples, the sequence serves as point where the plot forks – one taking the narrative forward and the other proceeding to depict the prevailing tension between Iran and Israel – only for it to dovetail seamlessly later on.
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Treading this duality, Tehran, which began streaming on Apple TV+ last month, is both a personal and political story. Set firmly against the backdrop of Iran-Israel tensions, it revolves around a female Mossad (Israel intelligence agency) agent’s attempt to infiltrate Iran, gain access to its radar system and neutralise its nuclear program. The show also grazes upon the political situation in the Muslim country.
Tamar Rabinyan, the protagonist, is essayed by the Israeli actress Niv Sultan. Like Niv, who grew up in Israel after being born to a father who migrated from Morocco, her character too, despite being an Israeli undercover agent, has Iranian roots.
Over the course of the show, Tamar Rabinyan develops several more layers. “She’s not just a Mossad agent. Neither is she just a young girl falling in love. She’s multi-dimensional. And that’s the beauty of it” says Niv over a video call.
For Niv, it was the intensity and relevance of the story that hooked her. “It was gripping to read. Everything was happening so fast and big.”
Shervin Alenaby plays Milad Kahani – a hacker operating on dark web. Shervin was intrigued by the cliffhangers in the story for he would get the scripts only one by one. “I would be dying to know what happened next.”
Directed by Daniel Syrkin, the writing credits of Tehran also include Fauda writer Moshe Zonder. First broadcast in Israel in July, the telecast had an uncanny coincidence when it overlapped with an attack on the nuclear reactors in Iran.
Asked about the difference in reactions garnered by the show after its worldwide telecast and Niv says, “It’s largely been the same. All of them have been good.” She then lists out the different parts from where the messages have been pouring in, “Scotland, Argentina and India.”
For Shervin, the positive reception is not just validation. “One of the greatest things about this job is the ability to impact people. You can change their perception,” he says. “In today’s world, culture is driven by conversations. And being able to inform people is a great thing. You feel useful.”
Actors Shervin Alenabi and Niv Sultan talk about the impact of ‘Tehran’
Niv attests to this. “As actors, we want to tell stories and we want those stories to make an impact.”
She also believes that the show speaks about humanity. “We are people. We are all the same; in the sense, we have families that care about us,” says Niv ringing true to some of the plot lines of the show.
Shervin, who was originally born in Iran and now lives in the U.K, hopes the show would help the rest of the world get better acquainted with the two countries. “One similarity between Iran and Israel is that there is a veil of mystery around both countries.”
“For people to become more familiar with my culture would be hugely beneficial to my community. Because, we feel we’ve been hard done by the media. To be able to take our power back through storytelling is a great thing, and I hope it will add a drop to the ocean towards some kind of change,” he concludes.
Tehran is currently streaming on Apple TV+