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Deepa Mehta set to make Masterpiece!

Although currently occupied with finishing Midnight’s Children (MC), Deepa Mehta has announced her next film, titled Masterpiece. After MC — her adaptation of Salman Rushdie’s novel of the same name...

hollywood Updated: May 20, 2012 12:56 IST
Prashant Singh
Prashant Singh
Hindustan Times

Although currently occupied with finishing Midnight’s Children (MC), Deepa Mehta has announced her next film, titled Masterpiece. After MC — her adaptation of Salman Rushdie’s novel of the same name — hits theatres, she confirms she’ll move on to a film about acclaimed French artist Henri Matisse and his relationship with his nurse-model and muse, Monique Bourgeois.

The Water (2005) filmmaker remains non-committal about the star cast, but Hollywood superstar Al Pacino has apparently been roped in (as reported by Hollywood trade magazine Variety) to play the revolutionary painter.

Although no start date has been set, Masterpiece is likely to hit the floors early next year. As of now, the makers are looking to cast two female leads in the film that has been written by screenwriter Donald Martin. Apparently, Mehta will start work on this film only after she is through with Midnight’s Children, which releases later this year.

Ask Mehta if she will also start her much-hyped project based on the real-life Komagata Maru incident (Komagata Maru was a ship carrying 376 passengers from Punjab to Canada in 1914, that was turned back by the immigration authorities), and she confirms there are no “plans to start Komagata Maru at the moment.” And although Akshay Kumar’s name did the rounds in relation to the film, she clarifies: “We have not been in touch about any forthcoming projects, at least not yet!”

A few years ago, Mehta had mentioned that she wanted to cast model Padma Lakshmi in the film. Would she consider her agains if it takes off now? “Yes, Padma is wonderful. I would certainly not rule her out,” insists Mehta, killing rumours that she may not want to work with Lakshmi due to her friendship with the model’s former husband, Salman Rushdie.

“I would not let any personal details interfere with work. She is an extraordinary person,” says Mehta, who worked on MC’s script with Rushdie. “I’ve always been fascinated by the story. I asked Mr Rushdie if I could make the movie over dinner one night and his response was ‘Done!’ And off we went. The production was a massive undertaking, complete with elephants, parades and helicopters, but we pulled it off. Hats off to producer David Hamilton and production designer Dilip Mehta,” she says.

Know your artist
Henri-Émile-Benoît Matisse is regarded by aficionados, along with Picasso and Marcel Duchamp, as one of the three artists who helped define revolutionary developments in the art world in the early 20th century. He hired his muse Monique Bourgeois in 1941. She later became a Dominican nun, and the pair came across each other again in Vence, France, where she inspired him to decorate the Chapelle du Rosaire, often known as the Matisse chapel.

Salman was reluctant to work on screenplay

Before Midnight’s Children, you worked with Bapsi Sidhwa on the adaptation of her book, The Ice Candy Man. What is it about novels that attracts you as a filmmaker?
Whenever I come across a narrative or any idea that grabs or intrigues me, I start thinking about translating it visually. Sometimes, I am attracted to things that I read or imagine in books, sometimes it is something I see when I’m walking down the street or talking to my daughter. You never know when you’ll suddenly be hit with a great story idea.

What was it like to work with Salman Rushdie as a co-writer?
I asked Salman Rushdie to write the screenplay, but he was reluctant initially, mainly because he was very busy with his own writing. I had read his adaptation of the novel for the BBC mini-series and was convinced that he was absolutely the right person to write the screenplay

Did his work on the script add to the movie?
Absolutely. Also he could take liberties with additions and deletions that are essential to make the novel into a screenplay. Few others could have managed that. We are talking about an iconic book here! Once I had his adaptation, my work as a director began. We resolved differences (and there were very few) with huge dollops of humour.

Except for the lead actor, a number of Bollywood stars are acting in the film. Any particular reason?
Bollywood has some fabulous actors. There are also many brilliant stage actors in the film from Canada, India, America and London. It’s a healthy mixture.

We heard that you don’t have a distributor for your film in India as yet. Is it true?
Not true. We are currently in the process of negotiating distribution in India.

Of late, Salman Rushdie has been embroiled in controversies over The Satanic Verses. Any fear that your film might face roadblocks since he is involved with the film?
Sadly, controversies are created. And mostly they fulfill the least attractive trait in human beings — titillation and the desire to feel significant at the expense of others.

I have learnt to dismiss the importance given to controversies. Let the work speak or in the worst-case scenario (in India) — not speak.

And lastly, women characters have had a very strong presence in all your films. How do you explain it?
I am attracted to dynamic, interesting characters. I have been very curious about the lives of women, their oppression, their relationships and motivation — all these things that are eternally intriguing and impossible to form a conclusion on.

First Published: May 20, 2012 12:50 IST