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Night airs ire over Disney snub

Shyamalan's split with Disney could spark an exciting phase in his career, writes Saibal Chatterjee.

india Updated: Jul 15, 2006 13:30 IST

Indian American writer-director M Night Shyamalan’s fifth feature film, Lady in the Water, is set to open across the US next Friday. But Hollywood watchers aren’t as excited about that impending release as they are about an authorised book that details the bitter rift between the creator of some of the spookiest suspense thrillers ever made in the US and Walt Disney Company, which bankrolled Shyamalan’s previous four features.

Lady in the Water, starring Paul Giamatti and Bryce Dallas Howard, is being distributed by Warner Bros. The project was originally offered to Disney. Executives of the studio nixed the script and a peeved Shyamalan went ahead with the venture regardless. He could afford to.

With successes like The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable, Signs and The Village under his belt, Shyamalan is widely regarded as an A-list director endowed with the power to call the shots. 

Indian American writer-director M Night Shyamalan’s fifth feature film, Lady in the Water, is set to open across the US next Friday.

Shyamalan did not, however, forget the Disney snub. He has now gone public with his ire in

The Man Who Heard Voices: Or, How M. Night Shyamalan Risked his Career on a Fairy Tale

, authored by Sports Illustrated senior writer Michael Bamberger. The book is due on July 20, a day before

Lady in the Water

hits multiplex screens nationwide.

Purportedly written as a freewheeling record of the making of Lady in the Water, a film about an apartment maintenance in-charge who spots a mermaid-like woman in the building’s swimming pool, Bamberger’s book devotes many of its nearly 280 pages to throwing light on what went wrong between Shyamalan and the Disney top brass.

The point of view is, of course, entirely and exclusively Shyamalan’s and it would be understandable if critics here were to dismiss the The Man Who Heard Voices as an undisguised exercise in hagiography. Janet Maslin has already done precisely that in her scathing review in The New York Times.

Maslin writes: “New work by important filmmakers is always hyped by early publicity, some of it flattering enough to have been written at gunpoint. Now M Night Shyamalan has set a new high-water mark for this sort of sycophancy. He has allowed Michael Bamberger… to follow him adoringly through every stage of the filmmaking process. The upshot is not just a puff article but a full-length, unintentionally riotous puff book.”    

That apart, the book seems to violate an unwritten – but religiously adhered to – Hollywood covenant between the major studios and their associates. Any rift that occurs between the two parties is required to be quickly swept under the carpet so that life can move on as if nothing has happened. But Shyamalan, a temperamental, individualistic Philadelphian with a streak of unshakeable self-confidence, has no patience for such niceties. Disney slighted him; he has chosen to hit back. The question is: will the blow land on its target?

Post-Disney split quotes from Shyamalan suggest that he isn’t exactly shutting the door on his former benefactors, describing his interface with the studio as a “parent-child relationship”. But if his no-holds-barred punches hurt the Disney executives, there would be reason to believe that Shyamalan and his early backers will never ever see eye to eye again.

One way of looking at the development would be to treat the split as the beginning of an exciting new phase in M Night Shyamalan’s already eventful career. When a child breaks away from his parents, growth is the only certainty and the key to survival.