Dec 16, 2008

Business - Bollywood looks to make drama out of real-life tragedy

Phil Hazlewood

MUMBAI (AFP) – Just weeks after the gunfire stopped, some Bollywood producers have already registered film titles about the Mumbai attacks -- suggesting that the bloody events could soon be depicted on screen.

Many of the proposed names focus on the city's Taj Mahal hotel, where a tense 60-hour standoff erupted into fierce gun battles between militants who had stormed the building on November 26 and crack commandos outside.

"We've had about 20 to 25 titles registered so far," Sushma Shiromanee, vice-president of the Indian Motion Pictures and Producers' Association told AFP.

Titles include "The Taj Encounter", "Taj Terror", "Terrorist Attack on the Taj", "Operation Five Star Mumbai" and "Taj to Oberoi", the last referring to the Oberoi/Trident hotel that was also seized.

Each title has been registered for 250 rupees (five dollars). Producers retain the title for 12 months and can renew the copyright for up to three years. If the film is not made, another producer can use the name, Shiromanee said.

The response to disaster is nothing new: a similar flood of applications followed the 2006 Mumbai commuter train blasts that killed more than 180 people.

Four films on those attacks came out to critical acclaim this year alone -- "Black and White", "Aamir", "Mumbai Meri Jaan" (Mumbai My Life) and "A Wednesday" -- all emphasising the Bollywood trend towards contemporary events.

In Hollywood, real-life terror has long been used as source material.

Recent examples include director Steven Spielberg's 2005 film "Munich", recounting the events of the 1972 Olympic Games when 11 Israeli athletes were taken hostage and killed by the Black September group.

"Flight 93", a 2006 made-for-television film, dramatised the doomed attempts of passengers on board a United Airlines flight to overpower hijackers on September 11, 2001.

But with the families of the 163 people who died in the Mumbai attacks still grieving, and tensions running high, not everyone believes it is a good idea to put the events on celluloid so soon.

"It's a bad script. It's an episode of defeat. Who would want to watch it as everything ended on a sad note?" Bollywood film producer-director Vikram Bhatt told the Indo-Asian News Service earlier this month.

Speculation that a Bollywood movie was on the cards began the day after the siege ended at the Taj hotel, when filmmaker Ram Gopal Varma toured the building with the then chief minister of Maharashtra state and his son.

That provoked a storm of complaints, although Varma -- whose credits include "Satya", a well-received film about the Mumbai underworld, and "Company", about exiled mafia don Dawood Ibrahim -- insisted he was not looking to make a movie.

Indu Mirani, the entertainment editor of the Mumbai Mirror newspaper, was sceptical that any of the titles registered on the Mumbai attacks would ever see the light of day.

"Any time anything happens you get people registering titles. But they very rarely get made," she told AFP.

Yet she conceded that films about the three days of terror will eventually be produced, probably focusing on the individual stories of heroes caught up in the violence.

"Tragedies have always been used. But you have to give it time for people to get past it. Then you can make your film. I think tragedy plus time is what's needed," she added.

"Immediately after the tragedy? It's like cashing in on somebody else's loss."

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