The Taj Mahal, actress Aishwarya Rai and Alexander the Great bind famous Italian archaeologist-historian, television presenter and novelist Valerio Massimo Manfredi to India - a country whose heritage he finds iconic.
Manfredi is the author of "The Last Legion", a 2007 Hollywood production starring Colin Firth, Aishwarya and Ben Kingsley.
"My character of the leading lady (played by Aishwarya) was totally different. She was from a village but Aishwarya was totally different. She was the lover of the protagonist �but she acted as if the film was for kids," Manfredi told IANS here.
The film tells the story of emperor Romulus Augustus' journey to Britain in search of loyal legionaires to take on the "barbarian" invaders. The writer ended up befriending Firth, could not get around to meeting Ben Kingsley and was struck by Aishwarya's eyes.
"She has such strong expressive and beautiful eyes. Some little expression of love would have made the film more different. The editing was so much like a video game, so many passages were missing...I am not criticising," Manfredi said.
Memories of "The Last Legion" make Manfredi introspective.
"I have noticed that everybody who has not read the book liked the film and those who read the book did not like the movie. This is very usual because they are two different kinds of expression. While the book uses words, cinema uses images," Manfredi said.
When a novel of "almost 500 pages has to be squeezed into a 90-page screenplay and then reduced to 50 on the computer screen, it becomes 1/10th of the original work", Manfredi said.
The writer was in India to launch the Indian editions of his Alexander trilogy, a series for which he is known the world over. The books, "Child of a Dream", "The Sands of Ammon" and "The Ends of the Earth" (Pan Macmillan) are historical interpretations of the conquerers' life painted on a canvas of facts and fiction. The trilogy has been translated in 34 languages in 55 countries.
Manfredi was also deeply moved by the Taj.
"I was here three years ago to shoot my programme for Italian television. It was a cultural programme about the Mughal empire. I loved the Taj Mahal. It was a masterpiece - very classic and very beautiful. The green gardens and the mausoleum are so imposing. It reminds me of the Renaissance...," Manfredi told IANS.
"It is an image that is almost an icon of India," he said.
He is the author of nearly 20 historical novels, several essays on history and archaeology and two screenplays, "The Inquiry" and "The Memoirs of the Hadrian". Another of his novels, "Tower of the First Born", has also been made into a movie.
"You must be prepared for a lot of cuts. Some are painful cuts but in the end it is a fanstastic experience. In my imagination, I had cast the characters in a different way...when you meet the people you realise they have their own flesh, expression and their body," Manfredi said.
But it is Alexander that lights up Manfredi's face. "He was the great because he was thinking great. Alexander went over the logic of the conqueror and the vanquished," Manfredi said.
Manfredi relies on his American wife to translate his books.
"I am in the seventh chapter of by new book. It is an epic set in the 1900s," the writer said. Manfredi is also working on a big project about India which "he will announce in a few months".
The writer is famous for his "route to the Trophy of the 10,000", a historical site associated with the march of an ancient Greek army of mercenaries near the Black Sea off Turkish coast. Manfredi had retraced the journey with a British archaeologist.
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