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Iran film projects on Rumi revived as Hollywood reveals new project

By Seyyed Mostafa Mousavi Sabet, Tehran Times

TEHRAN -- Some dormant movie projects about Molana Jalal ad-Din Rumi in Iran have recently come into the spotlight once again after Hollywood cineastes David Franzoni and Stephen Joel Brown revealed their plan to make a biopic about the Persian poet and mystic.

Photo: Portrait of Rumi, the celebrated poet and Muslim scholar

Iranian filmmakers Dariush Mehrjui and Mojtaba Raei have recently elaborated on their projects on Rumi that failed to be completed due to a lack of funds.

Mehrjui, a pioneer of Iran's new wave cinema and the director of the acclaimed 1969 drama "The Cow", was commissioned by the U.S.-based Iranian producer Marjaneh Moghimi in 2008 to write a screenplay about Rumi, which was to be filmed in English outside Iran.

The script entitled "Rumi's Kimia" was completed in 2009 based on Iranian writer Saeideh Qods' bestselling novel "Kimia Khatoon" about Rumi and Shams of Tabriz.

However, Moghimi could not lure investors into the project, Mehrjui told the Persian service of IRNA last Monday.

"Producing the film based on the screenplay I wrote needed a big budget and I wanted to make it in Kazakhstan, but the producer could not afford the project and she could not even attract investors in Iran," he added.

"The screenplay mostly focuses on the literary and philosophical sides of Rumi," Mehrjui stated.

Rumi's tomb in Konya, Turkey

In June 2014, the Cinema Organization of Iran announced its plan to team up with Turkey to jointly produce "The Drunken Peacock", which was about a professor who metamorphoses under the influence of Rumi's ethics. Raei, who wrote the script, was also scheduled to direct the movie.

In an interview with the Persian service of ISNA last week, Raei said that the project also failed to be implemented due to a dearth of money.

"We did not have enough money to make a film about Rumi while others have enough to make them," he lamented.

Franzoni's collaboration with Brown on the Rumi project has not received a welcome in Iran and the film may even be viewed as 'anti-Iranian' in the country after it is completed.

In an article entitled "Hollywood Appropriation of Rumi", IRNA focused on the project.

The article also criticized Franzoni and Brown for their wish to hire Leonardo DiCaprio to play Rumi, and Robert Downey to star as Shams of Tabriz.

The article stated that the roles are so much greater than what these actors can play.

"The scriptwriter [Franzoni] said they wanted to challenge the stereotypical portrayal of Muslim characters in Western cinema in the movie, but their casting for the leading roles shows that they are not being true to their words," the article read.

However, Raei said, "Rumi not only belongs to Iran... He belongs to the world as a whole."

He pointed to the probable objections from Iran about the Hollywood project and noted, "It is perfectly natural that any art production has its fans and opponents."

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