Deepa Mehta set to adapt ‘Reading Lolita In Tehran’

Mumbai, July 22 (IANS) Moving dramatically away from the Indianness of her last two films – Oscar-nominated “Water” and the ready-for-release “Heaven On Earth”, Canada-based Indian filmmaker Deepa Mehta now moves into the veiled society of Tehran. She is making a film on Iranian author and professor Azar Nafisi’s bestseller “Reading Lolita In Tehran”.

Over 100 weeks in the New York Times’ bestseller list and translated into 32 languages, “Reading Lolita In Tehran” is the story of literature teacher Nafisi, who holds classes in ultra-conservative Tehran with seven of her best students discussing Western literature that is forbidden in their country.

A progressive novel about women’s rights and feminist issues in a conservative Islamic society, this time again Mehta is all set to raise fundamentalists’ hackles as she did when she tried to make “Water” in Varanasi 10 years ago. The film had to be finally shot in Sri Lanka much later with a completely different cast.

It’s doubtful whether Mehta will be allowed to shoot the movie in actual locations. “One has to be fearless and true to one’s vision. Otherwise there’s no point in writing books or making films,” Mehta told IANS on phone from Canada.

“I don’t think cinema is only about entertainment, though I’ve made soufflé films like “Bollywood/Hollywood”. But to me cinema is about our collective conscience. When I read ‘Reading Lolita In Tehran’, I knew this was something I had to do,” she said.

She’s currently in her farmhouse on the outskirts of Toronto, planning and scripting what promises to be her most rousing work to date. Mehta’s current project “Heaven On Earth”, starring Bollywood actress Preity Zinta, is also about female repression, though set in the progressive metropolitan milieu of Toronto.

“Water”, that had Lisa Ray in the lead role, was about the widows of Varanasi. And “Reading Lolita …” is about the claustrophobia behind the veil. “Issues specially to do with women’s rights seem to creep into my cinema. I can’t help it. I guess they always will be there. Domestic violence and wife beating are not peculiar to any one Indian community. During my research I came across women from Mexico, Canada and many Latin American countries who are victims of spousal abuse.

“Likewise, ‘Reading Lolita…’ goes far beyond concerns of one community of people. I’m fascinated by the universality of the individual experience.”

— By Subhash K. Jha

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