Rumi film aims to challenge the stereotypical portrayal of Muslims in western cinema

Hollywood is planning to make a biopic about the 13th-century poet Jalal ad-Din Muhammad Balkhi, commonly known as Rumi. He is considered as the most popular poet of all time, and the best-selling poet in America.

Academy Award-winning screenwriter, David Franzoni, is set to pen the biopic. The movie will see Academy Award winner Leonardo DiCaprio in the lead role as Rumi, and Iron Man Robert Downey Jr. as the Shams of Tabriz, who was the spiritual leader of Rumi. Casting has not been confirmed yet, however, they are the primary choices of the producer of the movie, Stephen Joel Brown, as well as of Franzoni. 

According to Franzoni, who has created characters like Maximus (Gladiator) and Cinque (Amistad), Rumi is like Shakespeare. His character, talent, and worth to his society and to his people, resonates, even today. He is a character worth exploring. The project is both exciting and challenging. There are a lot of reasons why they are making this movie now. The world should know the story of Rumi. He is also very popular in America.

One of the key challenges, according to Franzoni, would be to build credible and identifiable profiles for Rumi and Shams, since even the basic facts about their lives are in dispute. They are basically trying to invent and resurrect characters because of so much missing information from their history. The movie would probably start with a prologue of Rumi's flight from his birthplace, and build up from there. They are planning to focus on the teachings of Rumi, as well as his encounter with Shams.

After fleeing from his birthplace, present-day Afghanistan, during the Mongol invasion, Rumi's plight saw him through Mecca, Baghdad, and Damascus. He finally settled in Konya (Turkey), and lived there till the end of his life. It was his encounter with the mystic Shams of Tabriz that changed his life. It was after the mysterious disappearance of Shams that Rumi started writing much of his love poetry, that he later became so famous for.

In an interview given to the Guardian, Stephen Joel Brown and Franzoni said that they are hoping the movie would challenge the stereotypical portrayals of Muslims in Hollywood. The irony, for many people, is that they are casting two white Hollywood actors to play the brown Rumi and Shams. Social media has been abuzz with a “whitewashing outcry” ever since the producers announced their intentions about the casting.

According to Franzoni, the reason why so many people like Rumi and his poetry is because there is something very “gettable” about him.

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