William Dalrymple’s Nine Lives to be film

A film version is to be made of Nine Lives, the critically acclaimed 2009 travel book by historian and travel writer, William Dalrymple. Taking the form of a docudrama, the film is to be a shortened version of the book and is being developed under the title In Search of a Miracle.

Theyyam dancer and his flaming torches

Nine Lives: In Search of the Sacred in Modern India, to give the book its full title, looked at the lives of nine Indians whose lives were intimately related to their beliefs in a higher power. This gave Dalrymple the chance to do what he does best – to tell fascinating stories in his famously engaging style.

The film is to be directed by New Yorker-based Bulgarian, Konstantin Bojanov, whose previous output includes the documentary Invisible from 2005, and Avé which premièred at the 2011 Cannes’ Critics Week and went on to win over 20 international awards.

One reason the film is getting a new title is because it will focus on just four of the nine lives featured in the book. The first is the story of Rani Bai, a sacred prostitute who provides for a family of nine, with the second being the tale of Hari Das, a low caste manual labourer and prison warder, who is honoured as a god by the highest in society when he dances at the annual Theyyam religious festival.

The intrusion of the modern world on ancient traditions makes the stories particularly revealing. The film will also feature tales of Srikanda Stpaty, the head of a family of sacred bronze statue makers who can trace his family’s craft lineage back hundreds of years, but whose son wants to become a computer programmer. Finally, there is the tale of Swarnmati Mataji, a microbiologist turned nun who is starving herself to death as part of her meditation.

In Search of a Miracle is part of Primexchange, a co-production workshop which aims to foster collaboration between Indian and European film producers. The scheme selects 10 projects each year, five from Europe and five from India. The workshop, which finished yesterday, was hosted in Goa, India. Filmmakers who took part got the opportunity to meet highly experienced film production professionals from whom they could receive advice and pitch their projects to.

Dalrymple, started his career as a travel writer, but has gone on to build a reputation as a historian of Indian and South Asian history. His most recent book, Return of a King – The Battle for Afghanistan, about Britain’s first disastrous military incursion into Afghanistan in the 1840s made the shortlist for this year’s Samuel Johnson Prize, the UK’s premier prize for non-fiction books.

Sadly it looks like the author will not be working on the film itself. Dalrymple told the Mumbai Mirror that he is not involved with In Search for a Miracle: “The book was my baby, the film is theirs”. Presumably, he’ll be too busy with writing projects to spend time on the film. But if the book is anything to go by, the stories are strong enough that it won’t matter if their original collector is part of this project.

We’ll keep you updated with any more information on In Search for a Miracle as we hear it.

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