Rumi film will challenge Muslim stereotypes, says Gladiator writer

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Source: The Guardian

By  in Istanbul

An Oscar-winning screenwriter has agreed to work on a biopic about the 13th-century poet Jalaluddin al-Rumi.

David Franzoni, who wrote the script for the 2000 blockbuster Gladiator, and Stephen Joel Brown, a producer on the Rumi film, said they wanted to challenge the stereotypical portrayal of Muslim characters in western cinema by charting the life of the great Sufi scholar.

“He’s like a Shakespeare,” Franzoni said. “He’s a character who has enormous talent and worth to his society and his people, and obviously resonates today. Those people are always worth exploring.”

Producers hope to begin shooting the film next year. Franzoni and Brown were in Istanbul last week to meet with Rumi experts and visited the mystic’s mausoleum in Konya.

“It’s a very exciting project – and obviously challenging,” Franzoni said. “There are a lot of reasons we’re making a product like this right now. I think it’s a world that needs to be spoken to; Rumi is hugely popular in the United States. I think it gives him a face and a story.”

Rumi’s spiritual and mystical epics, the Masnavi and the Divan, are widely considered among the best poetry ever written and have been translated into numerous languages. The Sufi teacher, who fled in his youth from his birthplace in present-day Afghanistan during the Mongol invasion, travelled through Baghdad, Mecca and Damascus with his family as a refugee before settling in Konya, in modern-day Turkey, where he died in old age.

Rumi’s encounter with the enigmatic mystic Shams of Tabriz, believed to have occurred in 1244, altered the course of his life. After Shams’s mysterious disappearance, an aggrieved Rumi wrote much of the love poetry that he is widely known for in the west – couplets that endure in pocketbook versions of his writings, which have made himthe bestselling poet in the US.

Franzoni and Brown said they would like Leonardo DiCaprio to play Rumi, and Robert Downey Jr to star as Shams of Tabriz, though they said it was too early to begin casting. “This is the level of casting that we’re talking about,” said Brown, chief executive of Y Productions, who was also a producer on other hit films such as Se7en, The Fugitive and the Devil’s Advocate. The movie will be co-produced by Y Productions and Es Film.

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