News APP

NewsApp (Free)

Read news as it happens
Download NewsApp

Available on  gplay  » Movies » 'My friends asked me to pinch Johnny Depp's bottom'

'My friends asked me to pinch Johnny Depp's bottom'

March 27, 2007 10:53 IST
Get Rediff News in your Inbox:

As Mira Nair was travelling to a number of film festivals with her film The Namesake since August last year, she was also working on several film projects, including a detailed outline for Gregory David Roberts' autobiographical novel, Shantaram.

The 2004 novel, which went on to become an international bestseller, tells the story of a fugitive Australian who lands in a Mumbai slum, befriends the slum-dwellers and starts a free medical clinic. But he cannot keep himself from the lawless world.

After enduring hell in one of Mumbai's most notorious prisons, he gets into laundering money and forging passports for a local crime boss, Abdel Khader Khan. Eventually, he follows Khader in a jihad against the Russians in Afghanistan.

The novel also takes Roberts, who was named Shantaram by his admirers in Maharashtra, to Germany where he is arrested and for the second time, starts a healing process after many turbulent weeks in the prison.

'Roberts, who wrote the first drafts of the novel in prison, has poured everything he knows into this book and it shows,' declared the influential trade publication Publishers Weekly. 'It has a heartfelt, cinemascope feel. If there are occasional passages that would make the very angels of purple prose weep, there are also images, plots, characters, philosophical dialogues and mysteries that more than compensate for the novel's flaws. A sensational read...'

The book also received good reviews from leading newspapers including The New York Times and Chicago Tribune.

The film could start shooting late this year or early next. Arthur J Pais talks to Mira Nair, and finds out more about the film.

Johnny DeppJohnny Depp is going to play the lead in Shantaram. He is also one of its producers. What was your first impression of him?

People who have known him for long will tell you that he is a humble soul with great curiosity about the world. And those were my impressions too.

He loves taking risks, and that is why you see him in big films such as the Pirates Of The Caribbean series, and smaller films like The Libertine.

You never get the feeling that you are dealing with a movie star when you work with him. He is down-to-earth and very humane.

You made a detailed presentation to Depp of your vision for Shantaram. How long did he take to approve it?

A few days. It was a thorough presentation, and many people were involved in helping him make the decision.

Had he seen The Namesake before that?

He had watched the film at a private screening. He gave me a big hug after the film was over.

You must have been overwhelmed?

I was very touched but I was also laughing within. My girlfriends had asked me to pinch his bottom. They wanted to have the vicarious thrill.

Did you tell him about it?

(Chuckles) No. But now I can tell him what they had asked me to do.

If you were to describe Shantaram in one sentence...

I would say it is a spiritual action film.

Some people may say, given that the novel also has plenty of violence and dealings with the underworld, that this is a project cut out for a male director...

It is a wonderful adventure story with strong spirituality at its center.

After directing Vanity Fair, which is by biggest film to date, I am prepared to make a bigger film.

It is important to remember that at the heart of Shantaram is the story of a man who has to undergo a lot of adventures and challenges before he finds out who he really is.

Quite a bit of the action takes place in the slums of Mumbai, and that was the background of my very first film. I call the new film Johnny Depp's Salaam Bombay!

What appealed you most in Shantaram?

It is about a man whose soul seems to be bereft of humanity. He comes to India by chance.

There are good and bad things that happen to him. But the real journey starts in India.

It is certainly going to be a big budget film, isn't it? I have read it could cost anything between $90 million and $100 million.

It is indeed going to be a big film and will be shot in many countries. But the project also appeals to me for a very special reason.

And what is that?

There are a few films dealing with the East and West connection. But I believe this could be one film that really shows how the East, in this case, India could challenge a soulless person from the West and help him get transformed.

The film is rightly titled Shantaram. But if you ask me, India is the real hero of this film.

In an interview a few years ago, you had told us that you are fascinated by how people survive in alien societies. To some extent, this is the theme of The Namesake. And now, in Shantaram...

It, too, asks the questions the characters in The Namesake ask. Like what is one's home? What is one's country? How much can an outsider become part of the country he or she has adopted? I am curious to know how much of an integration can take place.

These issues will be examined in Shantaram. They are there in the book. And we will have them in the film too.

Amitabh BachchanThe project has been under discussion for nearly two years.

Peter Weir (The Truman Show, Dead Poets Society) was to direct it but the producers and he did not agree on how this film should be shaped.

How did this film come to you?

I had read the book and dazzled by it. I had heard Peter Weir was no more with the project.

I also knew Eric Roth (Oscar winner for Forrest Gump, and the scriptwriter for Munich and The Good Shepherd) was writing the script.

I began working on presenting my own vision of the film.

And that led you to...

Johnny Depp. But before that happened, I had met with Graham King (who would later win the Oscar for producing the Martin Scorsese directed The Departed).

He was the key to this project getting the green light.

How did that meeting come about?

It so happened that The Departed had gone to several film festivals last year. And my film The Namesake was also at the same festivals.

It was inevitable then that we would meet. He liked The Namesake a lot and urged Johnny Depp to see it.

Even though The Namesake is a small film compared to what Shantaram could become.

True. But I think what they liked in The Namesake was that it was a beautiful love story, especially of an older couple and how often do we find such love stories on the screen? It was also a film about a young man looking for his roots. And the fact that I had adapted it from a bestselling novel also appealed to them.

Jhumpa Lahiri has said that she thought The Namesake could not be made into a film because of the many layers in it. Shantaram is a much longer novel and has far more characters than Lahiri's book.

(Laughs). I can be a good bulldozer. On The Namesake, Sooni (Taraporevala) and I knew that we had to sacrifice a few things.

It happens in the case of practically every novel that is made into a film.

We lose something, and hopefully, we gain something.

Eric (Roth) and I have had many discussions about what to take from Shantaram and what to leave behind.

It won't be easy, isn't it? The book has over 1000 pages.

I think we will have fun giving a final shape to the script.

I have also had extensive chats with Gregory David Roberts.

I met him when he was visiting Mumbai and I think he appreciates what we are going to do with his book.

How much of the casting has been done for Shantaram?

We have two lead parts filled, and we have two great actors doing them.

Of course, you know that Johnny Depp will play the title role, and Amitabh Bachchan will play Kader Khan, the slum lord. Both are eager to work with each other.

You have worked with a number of excellent artists.

I have been lucky. In The Namesake, everyone has done very good work but Tabu, Irrfan and Kal Penn are excellent.

I have worked with Naseeruddin Shah (Monsoon Wedding) and Denzel Washington (Mississippi Masala). But working with Johnny Depp and Amitabh Bachchan in one film!

Get Rediff News in your Inbox: