An Iranian asylum seeker who had never heard of Michael Jackson until he was detained in an Australian detention centre is now making a new life for himself as an impersonator.
Abbas Sharhani left his family behind and fled war-torn Iran when he was just 16 years old.
He made the treacherous journey to Australia by boat travelling via Malaysia, Indonesia and Christmas Island before being held in a Darwin detention centre for three months.
‘It was very dangerous, it was like a nightmare. I came by boat. I was on the sea for three days. I had no food, I had nothing,’ he told Daily Mail Australia.
It was in Darwin that he was told he looked like Michael Jackson – someone Mr Sharhani new nothing about.
Once he was released from detention and started living in Warwick Farm, south-west of Sydney, Mr Sharhani started researching, dressing and teaching himself to dance like the iconic King of Pop.
He straightened his hair and even had plastic surgery on his nose so he could make a living as a Michael Jackson impersonator.
Now the 20-year-old has become a mini celebrity in his own right.
‘Despite the fame, it has not erased the loneliness and isolation of the experience of being a refugee so far from home and family,’ he said.
‘However I do find joy in performing for people – everyone loves Michael Jackson. From the bottom of my heart I love the way he dances.’
Mr Sharhani, who came to Australia from an Arabic-speaking minority in Iran known as the Ahwaz community, has faced criticism from his strict Muslim family for his transformation.
‘They were like “why would you change your appearance and change your hair?”. They weren’t happy, they didn’t accept it,’ he said.
‘It’s difficult being far away, but I just keep doing what I’m doing. Dancing is my passion.’
His transformation from refugee to Michael Jackson impersonator is the subject of a documentary, Man in the Mirror, which will debut at the Arab Film Festival Australia.
The film was directed by Ali Mousawi who was introduced to Mr Sharhani by a friend when he moved to Sydney.
‘I was extremely excited because he is exactly like Michael Jackson,’ he said.
‘Abbas never imagined he would travel thousands of miles to create a new life in Australia as well as a new identity based around Michael Jackson, someone he never knew before he left Iran.
‘He saved money from performances he did as MJ to pay for plastic surgery on his nose to look more like him.’
The film festival opens at the Riverside Theatres in Sydney on Thursday before heading to Melbourne and Canberra later this month.
– Via Daily Mail
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