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Revenge of the Bengalis

Amita Mukerjee, 40, and her brother, Gopal, four years her senior, got so fed up with having their manuscripts repeatedly rejected by mainstream agents and publishers in London and New York and being advised that “you must write more like Arundhati Roy” that they set up their own publishing venture in the UK.

The logo of Revenge Ink — a devil with a decidedly Bengali look and what I imagine to be an angrily twitching tail — sums up its provocative mission: “a revolutionary, subversive publishing company launched to showcase cutting edge works”.

Amita and Gopal were born in Bombay and have lived in London and America. Amita, now based in Paris, and Gopal in Pune, will be in London next month formally to launch Revenge Ink in the UK.

The siblings would love to put a literary grenade under the established publishing world which they accuse of being in league with compliant Indian authors to provide an “exotic” view of Indian society that western readers find appealing.

The first two books from the new imprint are their own novels.

Amita’s is the semi-autobiographical Ugly Duckling, which draws from her own life in Paris where she was married to a Frenchmen and worked for 10 years as an interpreter.

Gopal has written The Armageddon Mandala, a first person tale of Allen Ginsberg, a private investigator whose “life of sunlit ease in the sleepy town of Snowdrop suddenly changes when a mysterious stranger, Gyani, shows up in his office”.

Theirs is no vanity publishing venture, though, for the siblings@revenge-ink.com are preparing to bring out three new authors. Unlike Amita and Gopal, I wouldn’t dismiss the entire pantheon of new Indian writing but they do have some grounds with some authors for feeling the way they do.

“Most Indian authors play by the rules,” alleges Gopal, while Amita reveals, “I don’t even read these books any longer.”

Slumdog the musical?

Slumdog Millionaire has made so much money in the UK since its release on January 9 that consideration is now being given to whether Slumdog Crorepati, the Hindi version of the movie, should also be shown in Britain.

“It would be for older (Asian) viewers,” says the Oxford-educated Anjna Raheja, whose PR company, Media Moguls, has promoted the film to the ethnic media in Britain.

“I am seeing the Hindi version to see if it’s suitable for release,” she adds. By week three, Slumdog Millionaire had established itself at number one in the British box office by taking £10,239,371. I don’t know how much the film will make in India but I took in a late night screening last week at the Regal in Mumbai where the place was packed with a very appreciative audience.

Ahead of the Oscars on February 22, we have BAFTA at the supremely elegant Royal Opera House in London where Slumdog Millionaire has received 11 nominations, including Dev Patel for Best Actor, Freida Pinto for Best Supporting Actress and A. R. Rahman for Music.

A friend is bereft that Anil Kapoor is not up for anything. Perhaps one should add some new categories: Anil Kapoor for Best Quiff; Amitabh Bachchan for Best Blogger; and Shah Rukh Khan for “I could have done better, only I wasn’t asked but, what the hell, I will sweep the Filmfare Awards”.

Meanwhile, the word is that the movie may be turned into a stage musical, with a slight rewriting of Noel Coward’s 1931 song, Mad Dogs and Englishmen (Hindus and Argentines sleep firmly from twelve to one,/ In Bengal, to move at all, is seldom if ever done, But mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun), which becomes, “In Hindi filums, a script, even a bad one, is seldom if ever done,/ But mad Slumdogs and Englishmen go out into the Bollywood sun.”

Dubai delights

After all the thrills and spills of Jaipur, perhaps the next literary festival worth attending is the International Festival of Literature, sponsored by Emirates Airlines, in Dubai from February 26 to March 1. This literary festival, said to be the first of its kind in the Middle East — surprising since Arab literature is rich and goes back a long time — is the brainchild of its director, Isobel Abulhoul, who is married to a UAE citizen and has lived in Dubai for over four decades. “Such a festival could only be such a positive attribute to Dubai’s burgeoning cultural calendar,” Isobel points out.

In many ways, Dubai, which has hosted a number of Indian art auctions and provided sanctuary to M.F. Husain, is becoming almost an overspill of Mumbai. Now the mixture of business and books will enhance Dubai’s appeal.

Isobel says the festival has royal support. “H. H. Sheikh Mohamed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President of the UAE and ruler of Dubai, has a vision of eradicating illiteracy from the Arab world and this was the initial inspiration for hoping that a celebration of the written word would help rekindle a love of everything to do with reading and writing. In our inaugural year we have a fabulous line of authors from around the globe, with particular emphasis on the Arab world. We are already in touch with authors who wish to participate in 2010.” Authors include Sir Mark Tully, who will be discussing India’s Unending Journey.

Given the recent example set by Simon Beaufoy’s adaptation of Vikas Swarup’s Q&A, one particular session, From Page to Screen: Secrets of Successful Adaptation, may well be oversubscribed. Panellists will include novelists Giles Foden and Phillipa Gregory, screenwriter Anthony Horowitz and film producer Peter James.

Horowitz will lead another discussion: “Glittering prizes: The impact of prizes on writers and readers.”

The question to ask him is: “Do Indians write only for the Booker?”

India’s hit man

Late one night, I was flicking TV channels when I chanced upon Kamal Nath being grilled on the BBC’s HARDtalk by Sarah Montague who, inevitably, suggested corporate Indian governance was in a mess as demonstrated by Satyam.

It is not what India’s commerce and industry minister said that intrigued me so much as the fact he had been brave enough to venture onto HARDtalk. Not too many Indian politicians would risk the ordeal.

Kamal Nath, who likes to deploy the phrase, “India has taken a hit,” or, more often, “India has not taken a hit”, won narrowly on points, I think.

“You smile,” Montague protested at one stage. The minister conceded that Satyam was important, “otherwise you wouldn’t be talking about it,” but pressed ahead with his message: “Don’t judge India by Satyam alone.”

Tittle tattle

At last, a diversion to take our minds off tales of economic gloom and doom — a grand Hinduja wedding. Srichand, London-based head of the household, and his three brothers have announced the wedding in Mumbai of Ambika, film producer (Being Cyrus) daughter of Harsha and Ashok P. Hinduja, to Raman, son of Harinder and Paul Macker.

I am pleased to note that the dress code is “formal” and, recognising that times are hard, guests have charmingly been urged to offer “Blessings only”. Perhaps we should offer to bring our own vegetarian samosas.

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