Roland Joffe, the Anglo-French film director, will script a television series, Ugly, for Freemantle Media International.
Ugly will retell the gripping French Gothic classic, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, written by Victor Hugo and first published in January 1831. A story of love, lust, jealousy and revenge, the novel is a painful description of romantic attraction between a beautiful girl and a deformed hunchback, a bell-ringer in the Parisian cathedral, also renowned for Joan of Arc’s moral resurrection, decades after she was declared a heretic and burnt on the stake.
Hugo began writing the novel in 1829, and his aim was not to tell just a story, but to make the administration and his contemporaries realise the immense value of Gothic architecture. Paris and France were in those years witnessing a certain callousness towards history, and impressive structures were being defaced or demolished (does this remind us of India, where heritage is treated with utter disdain) – sometimes for newer, modern edifices. In fact, even in the Notre Dame, the medieval stained glass panels have been replaced by white glass to let more sunlight in. So, Hugo’s work has long descriptive passages on architecture, many of them strictly not necessary for the plot or its progression.
One is sure Joffe will cut this chaff, and pen a script that will be more matter of fact, lucidly narrating the tragic adventures of the hunchback, Quasimodo, and the love of his life, Esmeralda, the kind and pretty gypsy street dancer.
Although Joffe is well known for the Cambodian genocide drama, The Killing Fields (1984, nominated for several Oscars, including Best Picture and Best Director) as well as for The Mission (about a missionary’s quest to convert a community to Christianity in the 18th century South America) that won the Palm d’Or at Cannes in 1986, the director is best remembered in India for his City of Joy.
Based on a Dominique Lapierre novel, City of Joy is moving story of rickshaw-puller in then Calcutta (played by Om Puri) and his wife (Shabana Azmi). Joffe tells us how the rickshaw man develops a friendship with a disillusioned American doctor (Patrick Swayze), and how the two transform a poor city slum into a city of joy.
Joffe said recently referring to Ugly: “It’s a cruel conundrum that beauty - much as it is desirable and desired - may be a prison both for those who have it and those who want it…At one level we all think we know what beauty is, but there are as many different kinds of beauty as there are varieties of love. Though physical beauty may encourage the continued expansion of the population at large, it may only be inner beauty that guarantees it’s continued and continuing existence…“In our story, Ugly is beautiful and much of what passes for beauty is ugly. Such is life, and life and love, cruelty and compassion, morals and money, are the subjects of our story.”
Joffe’s project will be introduced to buyers at the annual television festival at Cannes in April. This festival, MIP TV, is as renowned as the film festival that takes places on the French Riviera every May.