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  • Writer's pictureMahdie Toosi

Aban (Screenplay)

Aban is a short film directed by Iranian directors Mahdie Toosi and Abbas Taheri. The film competes in the Festival du Court Métrage de Clermont-Ferrand (2023). It premiered during the PÖFF Shorts festival (2022). You can watch the trailer here.


Aban: A handsome boy, 8 or 9, with long straight hair.

Nazanin: Aban’s mother, around 35.

Mahtab: Nazanin’s close friend and customer.

A little girl in the clinic

Nurse at the clinic

Kaveh: Aban’s father

1 - Interior/ Bathroom/ Day

Black screen. We hear the movement of a hand on wet skin and water dripping on the tiles in the bath. We see the calf and ankle of a woman in the bath. We see blood and water on her skin and flowing down between her legs onto the floor tiles.

In a fogged up mirror we see a boy in a school uniform and backpack holding a towel staring into the half open bathroom door.

Nazanin, Aban’s mother, is unaware he is by the door.

Nazanin (very seriously): Aban, where’s the towel? (pause) Aban…?

Aban pushes the door open more and hands Nazanin a towel. Nazanin stretches out her hand to reach the towel. Aban gives her the towel and turns to go. He hears a plastic container being opened; he sneaks a quick peek into the bathroom. Then he leaves the house through the front door. Nazanin, wrapped in a towel, stands before a mirror and is busy drying her hair. Black screen/credits. We hear scissors and a sewing machine.

2 - Interior/ Workroom (at home)/ Day

In Nazanin’s small home her living room is also her workroom. A large screen separates it in two halves. Nazanin is sitting at her sewing machine sewing some white cloth. In her workroom there are two mannequins, a man and a woman, they are dressed.

Mahtab comes from behind the screen and walks to a full-length mirror. She checks out the dress she is trying on. She does a little dance twirl. Nazanin stops working with the sewing machine and takes a serious long look at Mahtab.

Mahtab: Nazanin, something’s not right with the back.

Aban opens the door with his key and enters the workshop with his school uniform, he picks up a few scraps of material from the sewing table and goes to his room. Mahtab reaches toward Aban to hug him but Aban escapes her embrace.

Mahtab: How are you?

Mahtab follows Aban with her eyes to his room. Nazanin gets up from her table and starts talking on her phone.

Nazanin: As I said, the way it’s done is we send it to your city by bus. Then either you go through the trouble to pick it up at the station, or you pay for a deliverer to… (pause, she hits her palm on her forehead in frustration) …bring it to you, whatever you decide. Yes, this is how we do it. I always tell my customers at the start how we have things delivered. (She gets up and gestures to Mahtab with her hand and lips to come toward her, and with a small pair of scissors she starts to work on the back of Mahtab’s dress.) Your waist is too large for the model you’ve chosen, it won’t turn out how you want. I prepared your dress according to what we had discussed. Is it okay? Thank you. Good-bye.

She tosses the phone in anger on the sofa.

Mahtab: What did you fix, Nazanin?

Nazanin: I loosened up the pleats; the back was too tight on you.

Mahtab passes her hand over the back of her dress and looks at it in the mirror. Nazanin goes back to her sewing machine. Mahtab turns to speak to Nazanin and the phone rings again. Aban, in street clothes now, comes out of his room. He grabs another piece of fabric and goes back to his room. Mahtab watches him with a confused look.

Nazanin: Hello. Yes, this is me. Yes. At your service. If it’s okay, may I contact you tomorrow. I’m a little busy today. Of course. Good-bye.

Mahtab (whispering): What’s up with Aban?

Nazanin is fast at work on the white fabric. She rubs her earlobe for a moment.

Nazanin (strongly): I don’t know. What could be wrong?

Mahtab (apologetically): I don’t know.

Nazanin jerks the white cloth out from the sewing machine.

Nazanin: Didn’t you say you have rehearsal tonight, Mahtab? Rush hour is starting.

She takes a box from the ground and places some folded dresses inside.

3 - Interior/ Aban’s Room/ Continued

Aban is busy making a collage with the pieces of fabric and crayons and other things on a large piece of butcher’s paper. There are many of his artworks, like the one he is working on, decorating the walls of his room; images resembling a woman. Aban holds his new work up to a full-length mirror. Every so often, he lifts his head and takes some of the color stuck to his fingers and rubs them on his cheeks and lips giving himself an amateur make-up job. Nazanin suddenly hurries into Aban’s room and stacks the box on top of some others. When Nazanin enters his room, Aban notices the boxes. Nazanin hurries out of Aban’s room.

Nazanin (as she hurries by, to Mahtab): After your performance, don’t just toss it in a corner like the ones before.

Aban angrily slams the door behind Nazanin and throws the boxes this way and that. One of the boxes, containing girl’s clothes, spills out of the half open box. Aban leans toward them. He chooses one and puts it on. He then seems to have an idea and pulls a small box out from under his bed. He takes out a colorful child’s bangle from the small box and forces it, twisting and turning, onto his wrist. Then in front of the mirror he does a wild and almost hysterical dance. He then sticks his artwork on the mirror and stares at his reflection for a moment.

We hear Nazanin and Mahtab from outside Aban’s room.

Mahtab: Of course I’m not just going to toss it away. I am very excited about our performance, Nazanin. And thanks again for getting my work done for me today with your being so busy and all. (Pause) Nazanin, do you need any help today? Should I come with you?

Nazanin (replies dryly): There’s no need. I’m happy for you. Good luck. (Loudly, toward Aban’s room) Aban, hurry and get ready. Good-bye, Mahtab.

Nazanin’s voice catches Aban by surprise and he quickly takes off the dress and puts it back in its place. He puts a boy’s shirt on his bare chest.

He washes his face with a damp handkerchief. He looks at himself in the mirror. He notices the bangle. He tries to get it off but he cuts himself. Instead of taking off the bangle, he slides it as far up his forearm as he can and pulls his sleeve down to cover it. Nazanin knocks on his door.

Nazanin (sarcastically): Do I have permission to enter?

Aban looks at her. Nazanin enters. She brings her forward hand to smooth Aban’s hair. Aban pulls himself away.

Nazanin: Are you still not talking?

Aban: Take these out of my room. I’m not going anywhere. I’m not going to see him, either.

Nazanin: You need to get ready in a hurry. If not, the doctor will give your time to someone else.

Aban: I don’t want to see the doctor, either.

Nazanin: It’s a woman. I set it up with her for you.

Aban doesn’t reply.

Nazanin (seriously): This won’t work, Aban.

She goes to his dresser and pulls out his clothes. She reaches to take off the shirt Aban is wearing and to put something else on him. Aban frantically pulls himself away.

Aban: Let me go! I can dress myself.

Nazanin: So why don’t you then?

Aban: I am never ever leaving this place.

Nazanin: We discussed this, Aban. (Pause) I want you by the door in two minutes.

She exits Aban’s room and closes the door behind her. Aban stares one more time, quickly, at his reflection in the mirror.

4 - Interior/ Clinic/ Day

Aban is sitting on a metal folding chair in the waiting room. He is nervously shaking his legs and looking around. A nurse carrying a tray of sterile gauze and bloody bandages enters from the side of the hallway and goes into another room. After seeing this Aban gets even more anxious. He looks all around the clinic. He hears the crying of boys and girls coming from every direction. We also hear Nazanin arguing with the admissions clerk (AC).

AC: Father’s permission?

Nazanin: He’s not...

AC: He’s not what?

Nazanin: He’s not the legal guardian.

AC: You still need his signature.

Nazanin (slight pause): Here it is. This is from the court. His father has signed it.

A boy in his father’s lap attracts Aban’s attention. The boy is the same age as Aban and is wearing a dress. Seeing this boy upsets Aban. Aban and the boy look into each other’s eyes. Aban is frustrated and he gets up and walks down the hallway of the clinic, away from Nazanin who is arguing now with the admission clerk.

The Hallway in the Clinic

Aban walks down the hallway. He keeps looking around. A girl about ten years old catches his eye. She is sitting on a metal bench next to the women’s room. She is crying. Aban goes toward her. The girl is wearing a pair of earrings with red gems. Her ears are sore from the piercing. The tracks of her tears are visible down her cheeks. Aban stares at her quietly. He is almost mesmerized by her posture and the way her legs are bouncing up and down and swinging back and forth. The girl returns his stare. From the other side of the clinic we hear an argument.

Girl: What’s your name?

Aban just looks at her. He doesn’t answer. The girl stares back at Aban.

Girl: Are you here to get your ears pierced?

She brings her hand close to Aban’s face.

Girl: Smell this. This street vendor put some perfume on my hand.

Aban is silent and he pinches his ear lobes. After a short pause he bends his head down and smells the girl’s hand.

Girl: Do you know how to talk?

Aban keeps fiddling with his ear lobes. The girl excitedly holds her breath and points to Aban’s hand. The bangle has slipped down and is visible. The two children smile at each other. We hear the anxious footsteps of Nazanin approaching. She stops next to Aban and grabs him by the wrist.

Nazanin (anxiously): Where have you been?

Aban holds his breath. Nazanin grabs the bangle and looks into Aban’s eyes. Aban cries quietly. Nazanin hurriedly tries to take off the bangle but the bangle is stuck. Nazanin sees the cuts on Aban’s wrist. Rather than continue struggling to remove the bangle, she slides it up Aban’s arm and covers it with his sleeve. She walks off with Aban’s hand in hers.

In Front of the Door to the Circumcision Office.

A nurse is standing by the door holding a metal tray of surgical tools.

Nurse: Hurry, the doctor is waiting. Where are you going, ma’am? You have to wait outside.

Aban freezes at the door and does not move forward. He moves closer to Nazanin and grabs her hand. Nazanin looks from Aban to the nurse.

Nazanin (angrily): This is because of the stories you tell about the doctor, ma’am. And also because you won’t let me accompany him. (Pause) I need to come inside, ma’am. My son will not let anyone touch him without my permission.

She pushes her way past the nurse and into the room. The nurse gives her a look, but follows them inside without a word.

5 - Interior/ Circumcision Room/ Continued

Nazanin is preparing Aban. She removes his clothes and puts on his hospital gown. They are both quiet. Nazanin bends over and takes off one of her nylon stockings. She holds it up to attract Aban’s attention and then she teaches Aban how to use the nylon stocking to get his bangle off without cutting his arm. They hug.

Nurse’s voice (from off screen): Is he ready?

Aban lies down on the examination table.

Aban (whispering): Will you stay?

Nazanin (a bit seriously): Don’t worry. I’m here.

A male doctor enters the room. Aban is confused when he sees the doctor. He then looks back at Nazanin.

Nurse: Ma’am, you have to leave the room now.

Nazanin and the nurse leave the room together. The curtain is pulled. Aban moans. We hear scissors.

At the Circumcision Room Door

Nazanin is leaning against the opaque glass window of the door. She can hear the doctor and nurse moving behind the door. She nervously plays with her ear. She is extremely anxious.

6 - Interior/ Aban’s Room/ Night

Aban is lying on his bed. The unclear voices of a man and Nazanin are heard from outside his room. His door is halfway open.

Nazanin: Here, this is the signature from the clinic. (Silence) You can leave.

Kaveh: Where is he now?

Nazanin: You don’t need to worry yourself. He’s fine. But, for now he won’t come to you. At least not until the court’s final decision.

Kaveh: I’m not worried about that. I’m more worried about him being with you.

Nazanin (after a poignant silence): Good-bye.

We hear the door close. Aban is lying on his bed. We see the tracks of his tears. After a long silence, he gets up with difficulty and sits on his bed. He looks at his reflection in the mirror.

He focuses his attention on the only box left in his room. It’s the box with girl’s clothing. Aban turns the clothes inside out. He puts them aside. He struggles to remove his shirt. He looks at his bare torso, from the waist up, the reflection wearing just the hospital gown. He makes faces at himself in the mirror. He brings out his little box of jewelry from under his bed. He rummages through it. Other than bangles we can see souvenirs of Nazanin’s childhood; photographs and little toys. He takes out a bangle and struggles to put it on over his wrist. He cuts his hand again. This time he uses a nylon stocking and succeeds in putting the bangle on. Suddenly he winces from pain, and he has a big frown on his face. We see his image in the mirror and how there is a red stain on his white gown. The stain gets bigger and bigger. Aban looks at his reflection in the mirror. At the same time, he smiles and begins to weep.

The End

Written by Mahdie Toosi & Zahra Ensafi.

Translated from Farsi to English by Buna Alkhas.

Cover photo provided by Mahdie Toosi.


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