SMART MOVE: Archer has gotten wise and started officially selling movie rights for some of his novels, thereby checkmating potential “thieves”.
By Gautaman Bhaskaran
There is an old saying that those who live in glass houses cannot afford to throw stones. Some may aver that the popular British author, Jeffrey Archer, is doing just that.
He has accused India’s Bollywood of stealing plots from his novels, many of them bestselling and money spinners. In a recent interview with an Indian news site, DNA, he, replying to a question whether his books will translate into good Hollywood films, said with sarcasm: “Forget Hollywood, just look at your Bollywood! These thieves have stolen several of my books without so much as a by your leave.”
He said that his Not A Penny More became Bollywood’s Ladies Vs Ricky Bahl, helmed by Maneesh Sharma, produced by Aditya Chopra and starring Ranveer Singh and Anushka Sharma. And Khudgarz — directed by Rakesh Roshan and with Jeetendra, Shatrugan Sinha, Govinda and Bhanupriya performing — was Archer’s Kane and Abel or loosely so.
While Sharma’s story centred on three men seeking revenge on a conman who cheated them, Khudgarz is Biblical and based on feuding brothers.
Undoubtedly, Jeffrey is a favourite with Indian readers, and his books have sold in the country in their millions. Novels such as First Among Equals, Honour Among Thieves, As The Crow Flies, Sons Of Fortune and Paths Of Glory have disappeared from bookshops like hotcakes.
Bollywood’s suspected misdemeanour is the latest in a string of unsavoury events in the writer’s life. A politician and Member of British Parliament, Archer was part of a financial scandal that eventually made him bankrupt and pushed him into prison for a few years. But his first novel, Not A Penny More, did well and lifted him out of the morass and mess he had gotten himself into.
There were other scandals in his life, including one where he was accused of shoplifting three suits from a Toronto store in the mid-1970s. He denied this for a long time, before accepting that he did steal the clothes. Luckily for him, he was never charged.
Even as a student, Archer was always surrounded by unpalatable rumours. Fellow students were shocked because this young man owned several houses and cars with personalised number plates. And, mind you, he was working part time as a fund-raiser in Oxfam. His salary was meagre.
Later, Archer was reportedly involved in a sex scandal. He was even charged with financing a failed coup in Equatorial Guinea, and the list can go on for a while.
But somehow, Archer has had the will and ability to swim back to the shore. So, despite the horrible feeling he has for Bollywood, he has decided to enter the lion’s den, so to say, and play with it. He said in the same interview that he would set a part of his forthcoming novel in Bombay (as he still calls the city and this might well become his next point of conflict, this time with the Maharashtran government, which is awfully touchy about the name). His main character here would be a Bollywood actress.
More importantly, Archer has gotten wise and started officially selling movie rights for some of his novels, thereby checkmating potential “thieves”. He has sold the rights for First Among Equals and his short story, A La Carte, to Bollwood producer Sheetal Talwar. Director Hansel Mehta intends to officially adapt Kane And Abel.
Well, it is good that Archer has decided to go for smart moves, rather than lambasting Bollywood mandarins, who are perfectly capable of throwing bigger stones at the glass house that Jeffrey has been living in.
Celebrated French auteur Jean-Jacques Annaud — known for such great works as Quest of Fire, The Name of the Rose, The Lover and Seven Years in Tibet — is no longer persona non-grata in China.
Winner of several awards, including four Ceasers (France’s equivalent of Oscars), Annaud had in his 1997’s Seven Years in Tibet berated the Chinese government for its atrocities on the plateau.
The film was based on an emotionally moving true story in which Hollywood actor, Brad Pitt, plays an Austrian mountaineer. He becomes friendly with the teenage Dalai Lama before the 1950s when China invaded Tibet forcing the spiritual head to flee to India. He still lives in this country, at Dharamshala, and in 1989, he was honoured with the Nobel Peace Prize.
Seven Years in Tibet ends with disturbing title cards. “One million Tibetans have died as a result of the Chinese occupation of Tibet. Six thousand monasteries were destroyed.”
The movie angered Beijing so much that it banned Annaud, Pitt and his co-star, David Thewlis from ever visiting China.
Although China continues to be extremely touchy about Tibet — even calling the Dalai Lama a separatist — Beijing appears to have done a volte-face. The restriction on Annaud has been lifted, and he was allowed to make a movie right in China. Budgeted at $40 million, the French director’s work is in 3D and has been adapted from a Chinese novel. The film, Wolf Totem, has just opened in China, and it will now travel to France and the US, the distribution rights having been taken over by Sony.
Annaud’s latest movie is set during China’s Cultural Revolution of the 1960s (a subject that Beijing is still sensitive about), and traces the life of a young intellectual and his love of wolves. He encounters these animals when he is deported to Mongolia to teach Mandarin. The land may have been scenic, but was considered by Chinese as back and beyond as well as a punishment post.
Wolf Totem (which is also the title of the book) is a semi-autobiographical novel written by Jiang Rong — an activist who was sent to prison after the Tiananmen Square massacre. Surprisingly, Beijing allowed this novel to be published in 2004, and it became a runaway hit.
Admittedly, Wolf Totem is a far milder film than Seven Years in Tibet. The cadres of the Communist Party in Annaud’s new outing are not really arrogant, but appear foolish. They are not benevolent either.
In a way, the movie also touched the nostalgic side of Annaud. In the 1960s, when Annaud went to Cameroon as a soldier, he saw the brutality of French agriculturists, who tried to impose the wrong kind of farming techniques on the small nation, then a helpless colony.
* Gautaman Bhaskaran has been writing on Indian and world cinema for over
three decades, and may be e-mailed at [email protected])
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