Oscar-winning screenwriter David Franzoni said a biopic about the 13th-century poet Jalaluddin Al-Rumi aims to challenge the stereotypical portrayal of Muslim characters in western cinema.
Franzoni, who wrote the script for the 2000 blockbuster “Gladiator,” has agreed to work on the film on the great Sufi scholar.
“He’s like a Shakespeare,” Franzoni told The Guardian. “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 producer Stephen Joel 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 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 him a 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.
The film will focus on Rumi’s teachings as well as his encounter with Shams, while giving prominence to Kimya, the poet’s outspoken daughter who some scholars believe may have married Shams.
Franzoni and Brown said the main reason they wanted to make the movie was to introduce Rumi’s life story to the millennial generation that so loved Rumi’s poetry.