EXCLUSIVE: Miramax TV has optioned the rights to Alka Joshi’s bestselling debut novel The Henna Artist for series development. Slumdog Millionaire star Freida Pinto will headline and produce the project, executive produced by Michael Edelstein under his first-look deal with Miramax.
Published by HarperCollins/MIRA in March, the novel was Reese Witherspoon’s Hello Sunshine Book Club Pick of the Month in May. Miramax and Edelstein landed the rights in a competitive situation.
The Henna Artist centers on 17-year old Lakshmi, who escapes from an abusive marriage and makes her way alone to the vibrant 1950s pink city of Jaipur. There, she becomes the most highly requested henna artist — and confidante — to the wealthy women of the upper class. But trusted with the secrets of the wealthy, she never can reveal her own.
“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,” said Miramax head of worldwide television Marc Helwig.
Pinto, who produces through her Freebird Films, and Edelstein first met years ago in an ashram in Dehradun, a small town in Northern India. Part of The Henna Artist takes place in a location not far from the town of the duo’s chance encounter.
While the two had discussed other potential projects over the years, Edelstein said that the moment he started reading The Henna Artist, he thought of Pinto.
“It was clear to me from the first chapter that Freida was born to play Lakshmi,” he said. “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.”
In addition to her perspective as a woman born and raised in India, Pinto is bringing to the project her deep connections in the Indian film community. A search is underway for a writer to pen the adaptation, and, in addition to Hollywood names, the producers are considering new voices out of India, many of them pitched by Pinto.
“It’s incredibly important to get somebody who understands that world,” Edelstein said.
Reading the book, Pinto immediately was drawn to Lakshmi, “the kind of character I’d been dying to seek my teeth into.”
“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.”
A big draw for Pinto was the fact that The Henna Artist features “a world that hasn’t been explored when it comes to India, especially in a global platform.” While poverty is “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,” Pinto said. “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.”
Both Pinto and Edelstein are high on the book’s potential as a TV series.
“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,” Pinto said.
Edelstein drew parallels to the hugely successful Downton Abbey, which he oversaw as NBCUniversal International Studios president. Joshi, who said she was confident that Miramax, Edelstein and Pinto “will treat the material with sensitivity, intelligence and heart,” is already working on a followup to The Henna Artist, creating a blueprint for future seasons.
“The book is incredibly rich, the character of Lakshmi and the supporting characters around her,” he said. “I think this could be the type of show like Downton Abbey that could go on for many seasons.”
The book was repped in the deal by The Gotham Group.