It’s about time a Hindu girl took center stage and lit up the big screen in a mainstream capacity.
Paramount has beaten out Netflix in acquiring the rights to adapt a new YA fantasy adventure novel that currently sits at #2 on the New York Times Bestseller list for young readers. “Aru Shah and The End of Time,” a children’s book that centers on a maladjusted 12-year-old Indian girl, will now be made into theatrical feature, and it sounds like an essential one.
Deadline announced that the adaptation will be produced by Karen Rosenfelt, who worked on the Twilight movies, and the report specifies the book’s potential for a franchise that would be “a cross between The Wizard of Oz and Coco, with a touch of Night at the Museum.” The book, written by Roshani Chokshi, is the first in a planned series called “The Pandava Quartet.”
“Aru Shah and The End of Time” follows the title character, who lives in an annex of the Museum of Ancient Indian Art and Culture while she waits for her mother to come home from yet another archaeological trip. Notorious for lying in order to fit in at a school full of rich classmates who lead jet-setting lifestyles, she makes up extensive fantastical stories so that her life can seem more exciting than it is.
Aru’s fabrications get so out of hand that she claims that one of the museum’s artifacts, the Lamp of Bharata, is in fact cursed. When some of her classmates try to make her prove it’s actually true, Aru is forced to light the lamp. She then unwittingly unleashes an ancient demon that will awaken the God of Destruction unless it is stopped by the reincarnations of key figures in the Hindu epic the “Mahabharata.”
Several elements of Aru’s characterization and her journey are definitely reminiscent of other media released recently that embrace individual cultural identities and mythologies, particularly in fantasy settings. Firstly, there’s the Kamala Khan incarnation of the “Ms. Marvel” comic series. Kamala, an American-Muslim teenager living in Jersey City, takes up the mantle of the superhero while also having to deal with everyday school and home life, including the expectations of her Muslim parents. On the big screen, Black Panther is an obvious point of comparison too, combining multiple elements of African identity as well as the diaspora in order to create a rich superhero coming-of-age narrative.
Less directly related to cultural heritage but definitely important to note for its focus on a female protagonist is A Wrinkle in Time. Ava DuVernay’s film adaptation of Madeleine L’Engle’s children’s book focuses on a young biracial girl who struggles to come to terms with her father’s disappearance. The narrative of a teenager who embraces who she is, faults and all, could very well be transposable to Aru’s story. Where Meg Murry is isolated in school for her inability to move past her father’s sudden absence, Aru doesn’t particularly endear herself to others at first given her tendency to lie about her family life.
Meg and Aru clearly don’t share all the same issues, but this trend of imperfect young girls — who also happen to come from diverse backgrounds — being allowed to take center stage is a fantastic one that I’m definitely on board with.
“Aru Shah and The End of Time” also brings something new to the table amidst the many YA adaptations and fantasy movies out there. The book’s focus on Hindu mythology hasn’t really been explored in Hollywood before. That coupled with the story’s modern twist — the Goodreads summary of the book makes sure to reference that Aru wears Spider-Man pajamas — ensures that children, especially young girls, get to see themselves represented in an accessible manner.
Aru’s perspective is vital in the ever-growing effort to diversify film. The character especially reminds audiences of a culture oft-overlooked in the western film industry in a timely and entertaining manner. It’s a good thing that the streaming juggernaut of Netflix lost this round when it comes to acquisitions: an adaptation of “Aru Shah and The End of Time” deserves to be told in all its extravagant glory on big screens everywhere.