Stephen Alter is an American writer who was raised in India in a missionary family. He has many contacts in the Hindi film industry, in part through his cousin, Tom Alter, who acts professionally in India. Stephen Alter became fascinated with the industry itself and with one of its signature features - the "love thief", a character who steals girls' hearts. This character type has deep roots in both the Islamic and the Hindu literary traditions. So he wrote a book called Fantasies of a Bollywood Love Thief (Harcourt, 2007.) In it, he captures a flavor of what it is like to work in the industry, relating telling details from interviews with many of the prominent personalities of Hindi cinema, asking them about their professional lives and concerns.As for me,
Much of Alter's work is devoted to documenting the making of Omkara, Bhardwaj's hip screen adaptation of Shakespeare's Othello, which debuted in 2006. Instead of Renaissance Venice, however, Omkara is set in the present day, amid the dusty plains, teeming cities, criminal gangs, and dirty politicians of western Uttar Pradesh, India's most populous state, as well as one of its most notoriously corrupt. Writer-director-composer Bhardwaj gave Alter complete access to the
creative team throughout the writing, pre-production, and filming.
In between a brief biographical note on Satyajit Chourasia, the physical fitness expert, Schwartzennegger fan, and entrepreneur who revolutionized the look of Bombay's leading men with his chain of "Barbarian Power Gyms", and a description of the courtly manners of Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh's heavily Islamic state capital, is sandwiched this exchange, which took place during Omkara's production:After a full day on location our hair and clothes are thick with dust and ash... Though Vishal has been on location since seven this morning, he is still running on adrenalin and has a tennis game scheduled in the evening. Pleased with the progress of the film, he is already thinking about hisfrom Stephen Alter, Fantasies of a Bollywood Love Thief, pp. 143-4.
Rekha [Bhardwaj, the director's wife] suggests adapting Ayn Rand's The Fountainhead. Immediately, Vishal agrees, excited by the idea.
"The Fountainhead is one of my favorite novels," he says. "The main character is an architect. The way he approaches his work, as a perfectionist, you can never look at a building the same way again."
Entering the outskirts of Lucknow, the traffic grows thicker, swarms of bicycles weaving through a blue haze of smog. Vishal takes out his phone and calls Ronnie Screwvala, head of [Indian entertainment conglomerate] UTV, which produced [Bhardwaj's third film] The Blue Umbrella.
"Ronnie, I want to make The Fountainhead... "
Ten minutes later, when the conversation ends, Vishal tells us that Ronnie has read the novel three times. He too thinks it will make a terrific film. As we reach the heart of Lucknow, circling a roundabout and passing through the historic bazaar of Hazrat Ganj, we discuss how the main
character in The Fountainhead could be a filmmaker instead of an architect. His movies will reflect his own highly individualistic vision. Teasing Vishal, I say he should be careful not to turn it into an autobiographical film.
"But I'm not a perfectionist," he protests.
I'll wait and see!