Santosh Sivan’s Urumi gets an international version

MUMBAI: Santosh Sivan’s tri-lingual (Malayalam-Hindi-English) historical epic Urumi has just got a new twist in its tale. Having completed and released the lengthy Malayalam version with songs, dances, drama and action, Sivan is now doing an English-language version, which would not only be discernibly shorter but also contain extra characters and most, importantly, would give a completely new perspective on Vasco Da Gama’s invasion of India.

Additionally, according to information available with Businessofcinema.com, the item songs by Tabu and Vidya Balan are being done away in the English version of the tale.

Sivan says, “Yes, we’re working on an English version of Urumi, which would be of course much shorter — approximately 110 minutes, as compared with the Malayalam version, which is 2 hours 45 minutes long — and with different content. I wouldn’t like to speak much on the English version at the moment because it’s still work in progress.”

Prod him further to ask if Vidya Balan and Tabu’s item songs that were shot with so much fanfare are being abandoned in the English version of Urumi, and Sivan informs, “We’re retaining Vidya’s song because it’s an integral part of the narrative but Tabu’s song may go. I’ve ideologically opposed our song-and-dance formula for an international audience. But Urumi is a subject that is inherently Indian in a flamboyant and dramatic way. It is formatted as fable. I want to retain that flavour for the English version. There are traditional devices in my film from Indian folklore-like characters singing in the ballad style that I would like to take to the Western audience.”

The cinematographer-filmmaker is convinced the Western audience is open to songs and dances. “Provided they are integral to the plot, why not? It’s when our protagonists in Indian films start singing in their fancy jeans and jackets that the Western audience gets tickled.”

Sivan says the main difference between the Indian and the international version of Urumi is in the perspective. “So far Vasco da Gama has been seen as a discoverer.The English version of my film will show him as an invader, and a savage one at that. Do you know that da Gama went to brutal lengths to keep the Muslim traders out of the pepper trade? At that time pepper was as precious as petrol in world trade. To maintain a Portuguese monopoly on pepper trade from Kerala, da Gama went to brutal limits. When a Brahmin priest was sent to him for negotiation he cut off the priest’s ear. This is a side of Vasco da Gama that I’ll show to the West for the first time.”

The Malayalam version will be much gentler on da Gama’s character. Interestingly, Sivan is undecided on the version of Urumi that he’ll show to the Hindi audiences. “It could be a blend of the Malayalam and English version. That whole perspective on Vasco Da Gama as an invader and plunderer that I’m doing in the English version makes for some visually stunning drama which I want the national audience to see. The English version will also have several added Caucasian characters besides da Gama.”

Sivan is undecided on where the international version of Urumi would be premiered. “I have offers from several international festivals. I’m yet to take a call. Like I said, the English version is not fully complete yet.”

The film’s script was sponsored and approved by the Hongkong International Film Festival, though Sivan is not obligated to let Hong Kong have the first dekko of his film.

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