UPDATE: The producers have clarified they haven't brought the rights to the book. The retired professional tennis player is working with Unconditional Pictures to produce a film. The original article follows.
Screen Rant can exclusively confirm that there is a movie biopic about the Iranian tennis legend, Mansour Bahrami, in development. This year alone is already set to include two true story-based tennis-themed movies, in the forms of Borg/McEnroe and Battle of the Sexes.
The retired professional player (who holds dual Iranian and French nationalities) has sold the rights to his story, first detailed in the 2009 autobiography, The Court Jester: My Story, to Unconditional Pictures, which is currently developing it into a film. Bahrami explained to Screen Rant just how it came about:
“Well after my book it came out I had people who wanted to produce it as a future movie. I don't know the director yet, but it's Unconditional Pictures who are going to produce the movie and the scenario, with the script written by Dawn McDaniel. It's a great scenario and it's very well done. It's going to focus on my life in general - how I started in tennis and my life as a tennis player - it's very unique. With the war in Iran, the Islamic Revolution, the difficulty I had to play tennis, it's because of that that they want to make a movie.”
Bahrami’s life does make for a compelling film, as unlike most of the top tennis players - who had expert training to get them to a high level of competition - he learned how to play using the end of a broom handle as a racket. At the age of 16, he played for Iran’s Davis Cup team, having never played on a tennis court before. However, during the 1970s Islamic Revolution, he was unable to play the sport he loved because it was viewed as a capitalist and elitist activity.
After three years, Bahrami fled to France with his life savings and lost it gambling, but managed to revive his tennis career playing in the doubles competition - even making it to the French Open doubles final in 1989, with Eric Winogradsky.
The film will be set in Paris and Tehran and produced by Dawn McDaniel’s and Nathan Burkey, their first project as Unconditional Pictures. The production company said it was “a privilege to be working with Mansour developing his story for cinema,” and described exactly what the film will focus on:
“Due to Mansour's rare combination of sporting skill and irresistible humour, this story has comedy at its core - and his is also a very dramatic, eventful and inspiring life. As a child in Tehran, Mansour fell in love with tennis and he began playing with a broomstick handle at the bottom of a deserted empty swimming pool. He has never had a coach in his life, but through his passion for the game and his ever hopeful determination he eventually reached the French Open Doubles Finals at Roland Garros. After years of sacrifice, a little luck and endless perseverance, Mansour’s childhood dream was finally realized and his prodigious talent finally fulfilled. Mansour’s journey was greatly affected by the tumultuous political events that shaped his country, but through his courage, faith, tenacity and hope his destiny was never in doubt.”
Bahrami will be working as a technical advisor on the movie, but with no director or lead actor selected it might be a while before it moves out of development and into pre-production. However, this film is a certainly a brilliant opportunity for diversity and representation, by offering a tennis story that doesn’t have white players at its core. We’ll certainly see if there’s an appetite for this type of sporting film later this year with the release of Borg/McEnroe and Battle of the Sexes, but both of those movies feature A-list Hollywood stars, especially in the case of the latter. Whoever plays Mansour will certainly need to be strong enough to lead a story of this emotional and political magnitude - though the film could serve to introduce an Iranian actor as they get their first shot in the spotlight.
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