September 5, 2006

Bollywood Sets Love Story in Tiger Reserve

By Bappa Majumdar

KOLKATA, India (Reuters) - An intriguing love triangle set in the world's largest tiger reserve is being turned into a Bollywood film, in a rare celluloid adaptation of a best-selling Indian novel.

"The Hungry Tide" will be set in the United States, Cambodia and the Sunderbans mangrove forest along India's east coast, famous for its tigers and crocodiles and crisscrossed by hundreds of creeks and islands frequently hidden by tides.

Bollywood has often adapted Western as well as regional classics, but contemporary Indian novels have rarely been made into films.

The new film, to be dubbed into English, Hindi and Bengali, is an adaptation of a novel by the same name by acclaimed author Amitav Ghosh, and will be shorn of the customary Bollywood song and dance staple.

But its cast is expected to include several top Bollywood names.

"We are talking to Abhishek Bachchan, Rahul Bose, Manisha Koirala and Jaya Bachchan," said director Suman Mukhopadhyay.

Ghosh said he was approached by several top Bollywood directors for permission to adapt the film, but he chose young Mukhopadhyay because he was more concerned with quality than popular appeal.

The film, to be made at a cost of $4.5 million, tells the story of an Indian American researcher who arrives in the Sunderbans to track rare river dolphins.

But she ends up in a romantic relationship and discovers the triumph of the human spirit in the lives of the poor villagers.

"The landscape of the Sunderbans is one of the main protagonists in the book," Ghosh told Reuters.

"The Hungry Tide" will also touch upon the impoverished lives of the Sunderbans forest-dwellers, who have to fight hunger and tigers with equal ferocity to survive each day.

"The tiger definitely comes into the picture prominently," Mukhopadhyay said, adding the film would touch upon the rising man-animal conflict in the steadily diminishing habitat.

Sunderbans forest -- a nearly 10,000 sq km (3,860 sq mile) marshy mangrove straddling India's West Bengal state and neighboring Bangladesh -- had more than 270 tigers after the last census in 2004.

"Sunderbans is a very haunting, mysterious and very difficult landscape, not immediately pretty in any way but the beauty captivates you," said Ghosh, who has several international best-sellers to his credit, including "The Shadow Lines" and "The Glass Palace."

The film is expected to open in 2008.