Director hitched to 'Shantaram'

Mira Nair will direct big-budget Johnny Depp starrer “Shantaram” for Warner Bros. Pictures, with Graham King’s Initial Entertainment Group and Depp’s Infinitum Nihil producing.

Brad Pitt’s Plan B is a producer as well.

Nair’s arrival means the project –which may be Depp’s next starring vehicle after “Sweeney Todd” — is back on track after helmer Peter Weir dropped out last summer. Production is likely to begin as soon as this fall, with a possible 2008 release.

Nair will direct from a script by Eric Roth, who is adapting Gregory David Roberts’ tome of the same name. Novel is based partly on the author’s own adventures, according to publisher St. Martin’s Press.

In “Shantaram,” an Australian heroin addict escapes from a maximum-security prison and reinvents himself as a doctor treating the destitute in the slums of Bombay. His drive to procure medicine leads him into counterfeiting, gun-running and smuggling.

King said Nair’s “lush visual style’ lends an “authentic and vital eye” to the story.

Nair next will be in theaters March 9 with Fox Searchlight’s “The Namesake,” based on the novel by Jhumpa Lahiri. Pic is her first since Reese Witherspoon starrer “Vanity Fair,” released in 2004.

Most of her films have been about her native India, including her debut feature “Salaam Bombay!” and “Monsoon Wedding.” Other credits include “Hysterical Blindness.”

Initial Entertainment and Infinitum are producing through their deal with Warners (Infinitum is an Initial company). Projects in the works include “A Long Way Down,” based on Nick Hornby’s novel, which scribe D.V. DeVincentis is adapting, and “Bomb,” based on the book by Dr. Mahdi Obeidi, Saddam Hussein’s top nuclear weapons scientist, and American journo Kurt Pitzer.

Infinitum and Initial also are developing “Happy Days,” based on the novel by Laurent Graff. Terry Zwigoff is attached to direct from a script he will co-write with Jerry Stahl.

Nair is repped by Creative Artists Agency; Depp by UTA.

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