EXCLUSIVE: Netflix has taken in for development The Henna Artist, a series based on Alka Joshi’s bestselling debut novel from Miramax TV, with Freida Pinto (Slumdog Millionaire) attached to star and executive produce and Michael Edelstein executive producing. The project will be written and executive produced by Sri Rao as part of a first-look deal Rao has signed with Netflix. Under the pact, he will create and develop scripted and unscripted series for Netflix through his Sri & Company. Mirsada Abdool Raman will continue as Head of Development for Sri & Company, a role she has held since October 2020. The company’s mission is to tell stories that center on South Asian characters and artists, with a particular focus on women and the LGBT community.
In a competitive situation, Miramax TV in summer 2020 optioned the rights to Joshi’s The Henna Artist for Pinto to headline and produce and Edelstein to executive produce under his first-look deal with the indie TV studio.
The Henna Artist is an English language soapy drama and epic romance set against the lush and romantic backdrop of 1950s Jaipur, India’s famed “pink city,” renowned for its opulent palaces and rich cultural landscape. Lakshmi (Pinto) is Jaipur’s most in-demand henna artist, with access to the inner sanctums of the city’s wealthiest women and privy to their most scandalous secrets. But Lakshmi harbors secrets of her own and as she falls in love and endeavors to create a life for herself in a newly-independent India, her past returns to threaten her position within Jaipur’s high society.
“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 told Deadline last year.
Rao and Raman executive produce via Sri & Company banner alongside Pinto through her Freebird Films and Edelstein.
As part of his collaboration with the Netflix creative team in India, Rao is currently finalizing the upcoming series Finding Anamika, starring Bollywood star Madhuri Dixit, set to be released early next year.
“I’m incredibly grateful to Bela, Peter, Nne and the overall deals team at Netflix for this opportunity and vote of confidence,” said Rao. “For the longest time, no one in Hollywood was interested in my experiences as an Indian-American person. I often found myself creating worlds that were filled entirely of white characters. But I held on long enough to get to this point where the industry is slowly changing. Our mission at Sri & Company is to find the most talented South Asian writers, actors, authors, and other artists from around the world and create compelling content that’s entertaining for all audiences, regardless of the color of their skin.”
On the feature side, Rao wrote Baar Baar Dekho, featuring the #1 hit song “Kala Chashma” (with over one billion views on YouTube). He also produced the films New York and Badmaash Company for India’s Yash Raj Films. Rao is also the author of Bollywood Kitchen, which was adapted as a theatrical play produced by The Geffen Playhouse.
“We’ve seen global stories resonate and become more embraced around the world – their impact is universal. It’s one of the reasons we’re so excited to collaborate with Sri Rao,” said Nne Ebong, Netflix VP, Overall Deals. “He’s a gifted writer and director whose unique perspective as a Bollywood and Hollywood storyteller will help bring to life stories that will entertain our global members and enable them to see themselves and their experiences reflected on screen.”
Published by HarperCollins/MIRA in March 2020, The Henna Artist novel was Reese Witherspoon’s Hello Sunshine Book Club Pick of the Month in May of that year.
“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,” Miramax head of worldwide television Marc Helwig said at the time of the book acquisition last year.
Pinto 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.
“It was clear to me from the first chapter that Freida was born to play Lakshmi,” Edelstein said.