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Mira Nair On Board Depp's Shantaram

Which isn't as rude as it sounds

Mira Nair, the Indian director of Vanity Fair and Monsoon Wedding, who just missed out on helming Harry Potter And The Order Of Phoenix by the width of a wizard’s sleeve (steady now), has bagged a big-budget Hollywood project after all.

She’s just signed on to direct the drama, Shantaram, to which Johnny Depp has been attached for, ooooh, ages (we couldn’t be bothered looking it up).

Although it’s big-budget, though, Shantaram isn’t a kid-friendly blockbuster, something that will keep Depp’s commercial cachet alive after Pirates Of The Caribbean finally walks the plank in the summer – that job will fall to Tim Burton’s Sweeney Todd, which begins filming soon.

Instead, Shantaram has ‘prestigious Oscar chaser’ written all over it. Allow us to come over all Loyd Grossman for a second (steady now, again!), and look at the evidence: the heavyweight producers – Graham King, whose Initial Entertainment Group were behind Marty Scorsese’s last three pictures, and one Mr. Bradley Pitt. The esteemed screenwriter, Eric Roth, who wrote The Good Shepherd and is considered one of the best in the business. The acclaimed novel, by Gregory David Roberts, on which it’s all based. And, of course, the Oscar-nominated star, who’s long overdue a li’l gold fella on his mantelpiece.

For the uninitiated, Shantaram will tell the story of an Australian heroin addict who escapes from prison and heads to Bombay, where he poses as a doctor, a course of action that leads to counterfeiting, gun running, smuggling and really small, hard-to-read squiggly handwriting.

It’s all based partially on Roberts’ own story, which gives Shantaram another notch on the Potential Oscar-o-meter – a true story! And it sounds like one heck of a role for Depp. Nair, a fine visual stylist, will make the whole shebang look good, on her return to India.

The plan is to shoot this autumn, for a 2008 release, which by our reckoning means all concerned should book their tuxes and gowns now for the 2009 Academy Awards. Or maybe it’ll turn out to be Blow 2