Mohsen Makhmalbaf, one of Iran's most celebrated directors, will shoot his next film in the heat and dust of India.
Mohsen Makhmalbaf and actress Niloufar Pazira at Cannes
Makhmalbaf, 47, intends to begin filming early next year.
The filmmaker was in India this year to scout for locations in and around the holy city of Varanasi (Benaras).
"The yet-to-be-titled film will feature non-professional actors from Iran as well as India," says Makhmalbaf.
In many of his films, Makhmalbaf employs non-professional actors to heighten their naturalistic feel.
"I like casting ordinary people," he says.
The Tehran-based director makes films outside Iran these days to avoid his country's stringent censorship laws.
Makhmalbaf is currently shooting a film in Tajikistan, the location of one of his earlier features, The Silence (1998), about a 10-year-old blind boy who supports his impoverished mother by tuning musical instruments.
He is slated to be back in India by the end of the year to finalise the details of the upcoming shoot.
"The film will necessitate several trips as it will be shot in numerous villages and small towns," he says.
"It will be a freewheeling exploration of the soul of India."
Makhmalbaf is scouting for locations in Varanasi
This is Makhmalbaf's third attempt to mount a film in India.
Fifteen years ago, he firmed up plans to make an India-specific film.
"The venture fell through because I wasn't big enough back then to find a willing producer," he says.
A few years later, he wrote another script, titled Maharaja, and headed back to India with a film crew.
The country's slothful bureaucracy spoiled the attempt.
"The rules and regulations here were too complicated, so I aborted the project," says the Iranian maverick.
This time around, Makhmalbaf is confident of pulling it off. "I already have a producer and the script is in the final stages of development," he says.
The last film Makhmalbaf directed was Kandahar (2001), set in Taleban-era Afghanistan.
Since forming the Makhmalbaf Film House in 1996, he has concentrated on "making filmmakers rather than films", enabling wife Marziyeh Meshkini, son Maysam and daughters Samira and Hana to become independent directors.
Since the early 1980s, Makhmalbaf has directed such acclaimed films as A Moment of Innocence, The Cyclist, Time for Love, Marriage of the Blessed, The Actor and Once Upon a Time, Cinema.
His cinema blends starkly realistic situations with stunningly beautiful, colour-drenched and lyrical images.
His love for India notwithstanding, Makhmalbaf is no Bollywood enthusiast.
"My film will have nothing in common with popular Indian cinema," he says.
Bollywood, he feels, does not reflect reality. "It showcases an imaginary, sanitised world meant for enjoyment, not introspection," says Makhmalbaf.
"I have visited India several times, but my understanding of the land comes primarily from Mahatma Gandhi's writings and Satyajit Ray's films," says the director, who also runs a project for Afghan refugees in Iran, a school for aspiring filmmakers and a production outfit.
Love for India
Makhmalbaf is particularly impressed with India's thriving democracy.
Makhmalbaf does not much care for Bollywood
"Iran has a lot to learn from this country," he says.
"India's democracy recognises and accommodates a multiplicity of cultures, languages, religions and views. In Iran, we have only one language, one religion and one power system."
His faith in Gandhian non-violence emerged rather late in life.
"Today I am a citizen of the world. When I think of Mahatma Gandhi, I feel I belong to India as much as I do to Iran," he says.
Despite stringent censorship, Makhmalbaf and his filmmaker-daughter Samira use the medium to express concern at issues like the status of women and treatment of Kurds in Iran.
"Every script is routinely vetted by censors in my country," he says.
"The last screenplay I submitted was rejected because it satirised film censorship through the character of a blind censor board employee," he says.
Makhmalbaf does not, however, expect any trouble with censors in India. "I love India far too much to ever project it in a negative light," he says.