Shekhar Kapur, best known outside India for “Elizabeth,” his 1998 biopic about the 16th Century British queen, is readying a new “Elisabeth” film. Based on a musical about one of the most famous members of the Austrian royal family, the film is to be shot in German.
Together with Michael Kunze and Sylvester Levay, Kapur is developing “Elisabeth.” This one is based on the life and death of Empress Elisabeth of Austria, the wife of Emperor Franz Joseph I, and better known as Sissi. Kunze and Levay’s “Elisabeth” is a stage musical based on the Empress’ life that has been watched by more than 10 million people and which rates as the most successful German musical of all time. There have been 12 language adaptations of the stage show, with the most popular Asian adaptations being in Korean and Japanese. Kapur will direct the film adaptation of the musical in German.
“Sissi,” a 1955 Austrian film adaptation of the Elisabeth story, proved enormously popular when it aired on mainland Chinese television in the 1980s. That spurred a generation of Chinese tourists to visit Vienna. Starring the late Romy Schneider, it has also been a staple of French TV ever since.
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Kapur is currently back at the International Film Festival & Awards Macao for the third time in as many years. He was the head of jury at the first IFFAM in 2016, and last year presented Stanley Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey.” This year, in the Director’s Choice strand at Macao, Kapur’s “Bandit Queen” is being presented by Australian filmmaker Phillip Noyce. Speaking on the sidelines of the IFFAM, the indefatigable Kapur revealed several new projects exclusively to Variety.
Kapur is also in negotiations to secure the rights for Indian writer Amitav Ghosh’s bestselling “Ibis” trilogy novels, comprising “Sea Of Poppies,” “River Of Smoke,” and “Flood Of Fire.” They are set against the backdrop of opium trade between India and China in the 19th century. “We are looking at creating a series out of that,” Kapur said. “For a long time I’ve been obsessed by the idea of the Opium Wars. They actually changed the economies of the world. Opium caused the great Bengal famine, it funded the industrial revolution. (Ghosh’s) trilogy is a fascinating look at the opium trade.” Kapur says that the project is already funded, subject to obtaining the rights.
Kapur is simultaneously in discussions with an Indian television studio for a series, where the studio is offering to provide him a budget of $5 million per episode for 10 episodes. He is not at liberty to reveal the genre or the company. “India is really growing,” Kapur said.
In May, STX Films announced that Kapur will direct an as yet untitled biopic of the late Sheikh Zayed, the former president of the United Arab Emirates, with Cliff Dorfman (“Warrior,” “Entourage”) writing the screenplay. “It is still being written,” Kapur told Variety. “Elizabeth: The Dark Age”, a futuristic reimagining of his hit “Elizabeth” series based on British royalty, is still in development. “With films it is whenever,” Kapur said.
What Kapur is most excited about is his stint with MIT, Boston. “They invited me to be an honorary scholar,” says Kapur. “And what we are doing is to create new ways to create content and disseminate content in new technologies. Out of traditional stories from the oral tradition to where we are now with VFX, this is the next stage.” Kapur talks about the level of control the consumer will have with new technologies. “We will have to harmonize them with business models that will replicate themselves again and again.” The MIT project is exploring AR, VR and AI methods to deliver what Kapur refuses to classify as storytelling. He prefers the term story encouraging where the end user feels that the story is his or her own.