Hollywood actress Freida Pinto will take on the role of Noor Inayat Khan, the British World War II spy whose Indian heritage is traced back to the 18th century Mysore ruler Tipu Sultan, as the incredible story of a young Sufi mystic-turned-war-heroine is adapted into a television thriller.
The six-part series, which goes into production this year, is based on the biography ‘Spy Princess: The Life of Noor Inayat Khan' by British Indian author Shrabani Basu and will be directed by London-based filmmaker Anand Tucker. The screenplay has been devised as a spy thriller to include episodes from the life of the covert radio operator for Britain’s Special Operations Executive (SOE), who was killed by the Gestapo in Nazi-occupied France aged just 30.
Fierce and amazing
Pinto, also an executive producer on the project, said: “She was a fierce and amazing woman – the most unlikely heroine of World War II.
“Sending women to the frontline is controversial even now. Then it was unthinkable. Sending a Sufi mystic, who won’t use a gun, daughter of a long-haired Indian Guru [Hazrat Inayat Khan] who preaches love and peace – ridiculous! But Noor thrives, not in spite of her differences, but because of them.”
Basu, whose book on Noor was released in 2006 and who is the founding-chair of the Noor Inayat Khan Memorial Trust, expressed her delight at the inspiring story getting an even bigger audience.
“The beauty of a television series is that you can get into the story in depth. Noor lived for a brief 30 years, but her life and the choices she made, work at so many levels. I think it is just the sort of inspiring story that we need as we slowly come out of this pandemic and look for hope in the future,” said the author.
Race and identity
Red Room Films’ founder Claire Ingham pursued the story for screen after discovering a photograph of Noor in uniform and wondered why no one really knew more about her. It wasn’t until Basu’s book that she was able to get more in-depth details and an intimate portrait of the brave spy.
“She had such charisma and presence – ‘Twice seen, never forgotten’ – and yet she was shy and sensitive. Her SOE trainers thought she was too dreamy and naïve to send to war, but she learned wireless operations at a faster rate than her male colleagues; and when she was sent undercover, lived by her wits – making a difference because she was different, with a different set of code references and life experiences to draw upon,” said Ingham, who will executive produce the series alongside script writer Olivia Hetreed and her Sympathetic Ink partner Andy Paterson.
“At a time when conflicts about race, identity and patriotism have a new and frightening energy, Noor’s character and her nail-biting story of hair’s-breadth escapes and life and death choices, offer us the picture of a heroine who defies every prejudice and stereotype,” said Hetreed.
“Our series challenges ideas of heroism and the portrayal of Asian women on screen – often victims, sometimes terrorists – never the hero – and we are all thrilled to collaborate with Freida to bring Noor’s incredible story to life,” added Tucker.
The shooting schedule of the show will move between the UK, Europe and India, after which further worldwide release details are expected to emerge.
Meanwhile, Pinto is busy getting under the skin of the character – one she describes as powerful, thrilling and extremely relevant.
The 'Slumdog Millionaire' actress added: "Noor is unlike all the other female superheroes, warriors and badass women I see in film and TV, who train so hard and are so great with all the physical stuff, almost leaving us mere mortals to believe that courage means being good at everything.
“Noor has a quiet strength that she’s not entirely aware of.”