Of Amitav Ghosh, Bollywood and opium

June 19, 2008

I wish someone would make a movie on the “Sea of Poppies.”

Amitav Ghosh’s latest novel has all the right ingredients for a film set in 19th century India — runaway lovers, a bankrupt Raja, anti-British sentiment, a white woman masquerading as an Indian peasant and a huge ship sailing down the Ganges.

Author Amitav GhoshBut Ghosh is unconvinced.

“It’ll be very difficult. Will need a lot of special effects,” says the 52-year-old writer.

Ghosh just smiles. The silver-haired author, one of India’s best known novelists writing in English, is more affable than I had imagined.

There had been offers from Bollywood for two of his books — “The Hungry Tide” (2004) and “The Calcutta Chromosome” (1995) — but the projects fizzled out.

That doesn’t bother Ghosh.

“It’s not on my mind when I write a book. If somebody is interested, it’s something I’m open to,” he says.

“Sea of Poppies,” released this month, is set against the backdrop of the opium trade in eastern India and is the story of sailors, convicts and indentured labourers on board a ship headed to Mauritius in 1838.

The sea is a recurring theme in Ghosh’s novels. In fact, the writer spent some time on a sail boat to acquaint himself with sailing terms.

And how did he describe so well the effect of opium on addicts in “Sea of Poppies.” Did he taste some himself?

Ghosh smiles again.

“No, I didn’t.”

Then has an afterthought.

“In fact, we all taste opium. When I was a kid, we used to be given gripe water which is basically opium.”

(Click here for Reuters interview)


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Thankfully different set of questions were asked. I had read a couple of Amitav Ghosh’s interviews, reviews of the book etc etc. But this one was different.

Posted by Ambika | Report as abusive

Nice account of the author, he seems vey down-to-earth. Like the end the best, when Mr Ghosh says we have all tasted opium :)

Posted by Upasana | Report as abusive

The Hungry Tide would make a great movie. Seems to be a very simple man.:)

Posted by Elsa | Report as abusive

He is right, so are you. It will make a great movie and will need lot of SFX, but am sure will be a great movie with all the twists you have mentioned…Lagaan meets Pirates of Carribean. I haven’t read the novel so guessing if the ship sinks we can put in a bit of Titanic..I would suggest Mahesh Bhatt be taken on board for this project, he might add some ghosts angle and phew we have a Bollywood blockbuster. Actress I leave it to him..

Posted by Sceptic Indian | Report as abusive

I din’t know gripe water is opium..it means we all have tasted opium..

Posted by Sceptic Indian | Report as abusive

It was quite a refreshing type of book review, very brief, but one felt that one has met the author face to face.

Posted by Kuriyan | Report as abusive

Opium alkaloids are an essential part of all cough syrups and there used to be nearly 36 till some years ago but the number is up now and all cough syrups contain Opium alkaloids derivatives. Poets have used opium to be more creative and to forget pain – Kubla Khan by Coleridge was one such work. Helen of Troy used opium.

Posted by Rajesh | Report as abusive

Can Mr Amitav Ghose please clarify which gripe water contains opium or its derivatives.
Till such time that he clarifies this point I think it is just hearsay. The ingredients are different by various manufacturers but maybe his was some indigenous variety.

Posted by Rajesh | Report as abusive

Sceptic Indian: I didn’t know that either.

Rajesh: I am not sure if Amitav Ghosh meant some “indigenous variety” of gripe water. I guess I looked a bit sceptical at the time because he asked me if I had tasted gripe water in my childhood.

When I shook my head, he told me about other sources of opium for a person living in the 21st century — cough syrup and anaesthesia before surgery.

Posted by Tony | Report as abusive

Great work by perhaps the greatest living Indian author writing in English.

PS:I don’t count Salman Rushdie as ‘Indian’! 😀

Posted by soubhik | Report as abusive