If the 19th century ruler of Egypt could make good on his dream of creating a Paris on the Nile, then is is so far-fetched to think that Bollywood too can be brought here? I don’t think so. In fact, I may have the perfect forum for that latter romance to flower.The marriage would be more than that of Egyptians with their beloved ‘mitabachchan, though I can’t imagine that he wouldn’t have some sort of screen role. In fact, I can envision him in the role of either Sofkhatep or Tahu different as these character are. But… I’m getting ahead of myself (I say and do that a lot don’t I?)

The union I speak of is that of Egypt’s most famous literary figure in the 20th Century – Naguib Mahfouz – with the institution of Bollywood. Specifically, I’m thinking of Rhadopis of Nubia, one of his early novels, set in ancient Egypt. It has all the ingredients for Hindi movie – the story, the setting, grand tragedy, sweeping romance, beautiful women and men…everything is set up ideally for one of those grand-scale Mughal-e-asm style musicals. Only with pyramids, ancient Egyptian temples etc. for the backdrop instead of Hindu temples or Islamic palaces.

The basic story is drawn from legend. Rhadopis is a courtesan courted by many and whose heart is possessed by none. Until she meets the foolish Pharaoh, who falls in love with her sandal first when its dropped on her lap by a falcon no less (talk about a Pakeezah moment – where he fell in love with her foot), diverts the kingdom’s wealth to her, and neglects all his other duties as well as his long suffering queen. The story ends in Romeo-Juliet style with his murder followed by her suicide, but meanwhile there are other characters (and some among them akin to different Shakesperean plays) to contend with, adding masala and sub-plots. The pharaoh’s closest advisers — the grizzled old lord chamberlain Sofkhatep (yes, this has to to be Amitabh Bachchan as he is nowadays) and the younger-but-not-young fiery-tempered commander Tahu, the wise-and-hence- tragic queen Nitocris, and the young sculptor Benamun all have significant roles.

The Pharaoh’s role is probably the easiest since he needs to be handsome and headstrong – just a spoilt young man really. Any actor will do. All he needs to do is look gorgeous (with his shirt off). Both women are more complex portrayals – the one scene I can think of from Hindi cinema to explain their dynamic is the Rekha-Jaya B confrontation in Silsila (where I must say, no matter what I may have thought of their real lives, I had all my sympathy for Rekha’s character). Certainly the role of Rhadopis would have been ideal for a younger Rekha — dark, beautiful accomplished in many arts… Umrao Jaan moved to Egypt. Most Indians may think of Aishwarya R-B these days, but my own vote would be for a Nandita Das type of beauty, though even younger. On second thoughts, Ash may be be able to pull it off for Rhadopis has but one dimension to her character. But maybe this project ought to be a vehicle to launch a whole new unknown face and talent. The queen needs to have a regal bearing, capable of portraying great grief in her expressions and gestures, with a not-small dose of her own haughtiness – the very accomplished Tabu or Rani Mukherji could pull it off I think. Tahu’s character is probably the most difficult to portray — my personal pick would be Amir Khan, who has shown more range in acting ability than any other Hindi-cinema actor since Nasir-ud-din Shah, in my opinion. And of course the innocent Benamun needs just that one quality — innocence.

Why Bolly vs. Hollywood? Somehow, I can hear the dialogs in my head in Hindi/Urdu. And the scope for Bollywood-esque dance sequences can never be fully realized except in the context of Hindi cinema. The entire opening sequence — aptly titled “The festival of the Nile,” offers sumptuous possibilities, as does the scene preceding Tahu’s and Pharaoh’s visit to Rhadopis’ home where she dances to entertain the assembly in her palace. The whole sandal sequence suggests a fabulously suggestive sequence of dialog and seduction… I could go on.

But enough rambling I think on a wholly fruitless exercise of day-dreaming. Aaah but what a pleasant past-time while it lasted. I really had fun thinking this scenario up. Who knows…maybe someone will have fun acting it out.

Advertisements