Just saw this over on Beliefs, Blackness, and Bollywood…apparently Mira Nair has signed on to direct the big-budget film Shantaram, with Johnny Depp as the lead and Brad Pitt’s Plan B as producer. Shantaram — for those of you unfamiliar with the title — is based on a Gregory David Roberts novel of the same name. The story revolves around an Australian heroin addict who escapes prison, sets up a medical clinic in the slums of Mumbai, and finds himself immersed in the city’s underworld, which consists of smuggling, gun running, and working in the Indian film industry.
I haven’t read the book yet (I’m just going by what I read in wikipedia and elsewhere on the internet), so I’m withholding judgment on the project for now. However, the details of this film so far are quite fascinating.
Take, for example, the story of how Johnny Depp managed to snag the lead role. According to this article, both Russell Crowe and Johnny Depp wanted the part, but Gregory Roberts ultimately chose Depp. Apparently it came down to the fact that…
“Johnny Depp has a lot of Indian friends,” Roberts said. “The way he spoke about them has made me realise that he was the best actor who could bring that love to the film.”
I can just picture all these struggling actors now trying to emulate Johnny Depp, re-writing their resumes so that they read: John Doe. Film, television, and theater actor. Also knows people who are [insert relevant minority group here], and holds them in very high regard. Similarly, according to Variety, Shantaram’s producers are excited that Nair has agreed to direct the film, because she brings an “authentic eye” to the project. As in, she’s a brown person who knows the difference between a real Mumbai slum and one that’s been manufactured for tourists, unlike the rest of us clueless people. According to this interview, Nair seems very optimistic about the film:
Unlike the movies where the white man comes to the dark continent and teaches how to light a candle, make electricity or whatever, this is a film about a man who is ashamed, guilty, who has no self esteem at all, who is a convict, heroine addict and he discovers what honour is. He meets very very important desi characters who instills in him what honour is,” said Nair.
Ok, enough cynicism. I really should read the book. In any case, Mira Nair’s work is hit or miss for me. I loved Salaam Bombay! and Monsoon Wedding, but I wasn’t impressed by either Mississippi Masala or Vanity Fair. It’s too soon to tell whether Shantaram is going to uphold the cows-caste-curry-dowry stereotypes we often see in other Hollywood films, or whether Johnny Depp’s Indian friends will help him win an Oscar. Still, I’m curious to see what the end result will be.