Freida Pinto To Produce And Star In The Adaptation Of ‘The Henna Artist’, A Feminist Story Set In 1950s’ Jaipur
Page-to-screen adaptations are a tricky ground. But lately, Hollywood’s been doing a pretty commendable job of it: Be it Greta Gerwig’s take on Louisa May Alcott’s 1868 novel, Little Women, or Taika Waititi’s satirical interpretation of Christine Leunens’s 2008 book Caging Skies, Jojo Rabbit. Even currently, BBC One is telecasting Mira Nair’s serial adaption of Vikram Seth’s magnum opus, A Suitable Boy, which stars a record-breaking 110 Asian actors, headlined by Tanya Manaktala, Ishaan Khatter, Tabu, and Ram Kapoor, amongst others. Now, another book is set to join this list. Alka Joshi’s bestselling debut, ‘The Henna Artist’ is being turned into a series by Miramax, which will both star and be produced by Slumdog Millionaire actor Freida Pinto.
Deadline has reported that the book, published by HarperCollins/MIRA in 2020, was acquired by Michael Edelstein, who’ll be executive producing the series. His thoughts immediately went to Freida Pinto, who he had met years ago in an ashram in Dehradun and thinks is perfect to play the role of the protagonist, Lakshmi. Since the book is set in 1950s’ Jaipur, having Freida on board also has the added advantage of having a woman born and raised in India headlining the project. She and Edelstein are already searching for a writer and some “new voices out of India” to add to their cast, in addition to Hollywood actors.
What is The Henna Artist about?
Set in the 1950s, Alka Joshi’s bestselling debut novel, The Henna Artist is the story of a 17-year-old Lakshmi, who escapes an abusive marriage and finds herself in Jaipur, Rajasthan, alone. There, she goes on to become the most sought after henna artist, known for her original designs and sage advice. In her unique position, Lakshmi is often privy to the secrets and gossips of the high-society ladies who confide in her. However, her own past is riddled with secrets which she can never reveal to them. And pretty soon, it catches up to her….
The production house’s head of worldwide television, Marc Helwig was quoted praising the ethos of the story. “Alka has crafted a beautiful story of independence, family, heartbreak and success, led by a captivating heroine with an indomitable spirit, and we are very excited to collaborate with Alka, Michael and Freida to bring this extraordinary journey to the screen.”
Alka Joshi seems confident to entrust her work in the hands of Miramax, Edelstein and Freida Pinto, who she believes will treat it with all the respect and sensitivity it deserves to stay true to the material. Moreover, Joshi has already begun work on a follow-up novel that will ensure that future seasons of the series have some material straight from the original creator to rely on.
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“Freida was born to play Lakshmi….”
The sentiments of executive producer Michael Edelstein are clear–he’s happy to have Freida both star in and produce the show. “It was clear to me from the first chapter that Freida was born to play Lakshmi. Fortunately, the project is blessed that not only is Freida a brilliant actress, but she is the perfect producing partner to help bring this project from book to screen.”
As for Freida, Lakshmi Shastri is the kind of character she has been “dying to sink my teeth into,” she told Deadline, because hers is an empowering character that represents quite well the complex women of India.
“As an actress, I cannot wait to dive back into the stories of my motherland and make my women (and my men) of all backgrounds, with all their good and their complexities, feel seen and heard,” she said. “Lakshmi Shastri is not a puritanical woman. She empowers me, and I am honored to pass that feeling on to a very global audience.”
The Henna Artist Is About Feminism
Evidently, Lakshmi’s story is, at its core, a feminist story. And that has been one of the biggest motivations for Freida Pinto to be associated with the project. According to her, it isn’t the run-of-the-mill story on Indian poverty, which is usually targeted in global projects. She said that it was “… a topic that a lot of the global market veers to when they think of India, this book feels such a celebration of womanhood and feminism. If I had to portray an India starting in 2020 and on, this is the India I’d love for the world to get introduced to.”
The book also comes highly recommended by Reese Witherspoon, who had chosen it as her Hello Sunshine Book Club Pick of the Month for May.
In fact, she totally thinks that the audience will find The Henna Artist worth a full-on binge, something on the lines of, say, a Dowtown Abbey.
“The Henna Artist has tremendous potential to become that bingeable, high-quality, multilayered television show that honours the glory and beauty of India, its culture and its people.”
Honestly, I am super excited to see how this one turns out. The chief concerns with the international adaptions of Indian stories are always the same—authenticity, casting of native Asians, accents, and a certain colour palette that has become associated with these productions. Whether it was Danny Boyle’s Slumdog Millionaire that Pinto starred in or Mira Nair’s ongoing A Suitable Boy, there’s always a section of the audience that keeps a sharp eye out for any cultural misappropriation. Here’s hoping The Henna Artist can dodge all that and draw a beautiful, original new design true to its Indian roots!