Indian director, Anup Singh, who is part of the New Horizons Jury here at the ongoing Abu Dhabi Film Festival, told HT last night that he was planning his next movie titled, Mantra – The Tale of the Scorpions. To be shot sometime next year in the deep deserts of Rajasthan, Mantra -- like his earlier work, Qissa, which screened here last year -- will be based on a folklore.
“Mantra talks about a simple people who live in the middle of the harsh desert. Building their homes on a flat patch of land boxed by tall sand dunes, the men and women exist along with one of the most venomous varieties of scorpions,
whose sting leads to death within 24 hours – the poison travelling from the place of the bite to the heart”, Singh said. ”The only cure for this, at least that is what the locals believe, is to get hold of one who is called a Scorpion Singer. Usually a woman, she can feel the poison as it travels through the body, and stop its deadly march before it reaches the heart”.
In what is certainly a coup of sorts, Singh’s Scorpion Singer will be the extremely talented and extraordinarily beautiful Iranian actor, Golshifteh Farahani.
What makes her even more interesting is her life that has been peppered with defiant streaks. As a girl, she once, convinced her classmates to boycott school because it had no heating. Another time, she played cupid by lying to her parents so that her sister could meet her boyfriend.
Farahani grew even more daring when she became a teenager. At 16, she shaved her head in protest against the scarf — something that no girl would do. Not just this, but she dressed like a boy and cycled around Teheran. At 17, she took up acting when her parents insisted that she learn the piano. In one of her interviews, Farahani said she was far from a good girl, which Iranian society expected of her. Instead, “I chose to play with the lion’s tail,” she quipped.
At 20, she married and soon after fell afoul of Iranian authorities when she acted opposite Leonardo DiCaprio in Ridley Scott’s CIA thriller, Body of Lies.
When she was accused of collaborating with the West, she ran away to Paris, and soon after divorced her husband. That was in 2008.
One of her earlier movies, The Patience Stone, which was shown at Abu Dhabi a couple of years ago, has her portraying a character that mirrors Farahani’s temperament. The film is a “statement of rebellion”. In the movie, the woman, played by Farahani, is seen tending to her comatose husband with a bullet in his neck, and as the plot progresses, she begins to confess to her husband — partly to fight her loneliness and boredom. The confessions stretch over several days, and with the passing of time, they get increasingly daring and salacious.
Singh’s Qissa or Fable is a piece set during India’s traumatic partition, and Irrfan Khan’s Umber Singh is one among those thousands of people uprooted from either side of the border who lose their very sense of belonging. Forced to flee his village with his young wife and little daughters as well as the others, Singh settles down in India, and is determined not only to better his life than what it was in Pakistan, but also to have a son.
However, when his wife gives birth to a fourth child, also a girl like his earlier three children, Singh slips into a make-believe world. He decides to raise this fourth daughter of his as a son, teaches her to live like a man. But when she has to get married to a gypsy, pushed as she is in into a sticky situation, the storm is not far in coming.
Singh averred that he was yet to finalise his male lead. But during the Festival here, one saw him often with Irrfan Khan (who is heading the main Narrative Feature Jury), and with the kind of rapport the two men had built on the set of Qissa and the respect they share for each other’s work, one may well find Irrfan playing in Mantra. And the Khan-Farahani combine will be just marvellous.
(Gautaman Bhaskaran is covering the Abu Dhabi Film Festival for Hindustan Times)