Historian Cross-overs

Photo: Gyan Prakash. A clapper board for the film “Bombay Velvet”.

For anyone who has been following Seth’s posts on this site over the last couple years, there has been a notably strong dose of history in many due to his decision to focus his undergraduate studies in environmental history. Summer 2013–an archival deep dive quite distinct from his previous summers in the present reality of Galapagos, Nicaragua, India, Jordan, Chile, Croatia, Costa Rica, France–was spent in Ithaca, his first summer there since the series of summers 1992-1995 (birth year through toddlerhood, when his father was engaged in history-based doctoral dissertation research). Is there a DNA tracer for history appreciation?

This comes to mind reading Gyan Prakash’s account of his experience mixing history and film.  For the many readers of university age who follow Seth’s writings the reasonable question might be what he plans to do with that degree once he graduates.  We expect that in the coming months as he approaches graduation this will start popping up as a theme in his posts. What good is history? Consult Mr. Prakash for inspiration:

On July 28, I flew to Colombo, the capital of Sri Lanka, to join the filmmaker Anurag Kashyap,  the actors Ranbir Kapoor and Anushka Sharma, and a massive crew making the movie “Bombay  Velvet.” In 2004, drawing on my research on the history of Mumbai, I had written the outline for a retro film noir  aimed at capturing the momentous transformation of Mumbai’s milieu of jazz clubs and industrial society in the 1960s. I had seen and admired Mr. Kashyap’s first film, “Paanch,” a dark tale set in Mumbai that has never been released commercially but was screened at Princeton University. I told my story to him because he had a reputation as an independent-minded and talented scriptwriter and director. When I finished, he said, “Like James Ellroy! Great! We’ll make it.”

This initial burst of enthusiasm was what John le Carré, writing in The New Yorker about his experience with the filming of one of his novels, described as the “First Flush.” It was followed, as in the case of Mr. le Carré, with the “Big Unexplained Silence.” Year after year, month after month, I badgered Mr. Kashyap, but things never seemed to be falling into place. I was certain that only he had the sensibility to make a dark film of the kind that I had in mind, despite the fact that most of his own films — like “Black Friday,” on the 1993 bombings in Mumbai, then Bombay, — were not finding distribution. When I arrived in Mumbai in the summer of 2008, he suggested that I write a script to get things going.  Write a screenplay? I immediately bought books on screenwriting and read and reread well-known screenplays. And I did write a script, several times over.

Read the whole article here.

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