Sharp-shooting soldier Richard Sharpe (played by Sean Bean, picture right) has hit Indian screens. The swashbuckling British rifleman fighting against Napoleon in 19th century Europe is a household name in Britain after the series Sharpe was telecast from 1993 to 1997 and made a comeback earlier this year.
Based on the best-selling novels by Bernard Cornwell, the series is beaming every Monday at 9 pm on The History Channel.
"India will see the first five series, covering 14 stories," says Muir Sutherland, producer-chairman, Celtic Films Entertainment, from London.
The series takes off from Sharpe's Eagle, the first book set in 1809 where the challenge is to capture a French eagle, Napoleon's battle standard. After many a derring-do exploit in the subsequent 12 adventures, Sharpe reaches the Battle of Waterloo and helps Sir Arthur Wellesley defeat the French Emperor.
Sutherland concedes historical films are far more expensive to make than contemporary soaps. "It took us four to five years to get Sharpe going. The original battlegrounds were in Spain and Southern France. But it is so expensive to shoot there that we toured Uruguay, Czechoslovakia (sic) and finally shot in Crimea in Ukraine and Turkey," Sutherland says.
The stories are full of battles. "We got the weapons made of steel or wood. But the biggest accident happened at the beginning when Paul McGann, the original choice for Sharpe, hurt his foot playing football and had to withdraw."
Sutherland agrees that Sharpe could be described as an 18th century James Bond. "Though he is under an officer's command, he does things in ways others wouldn't."
The connection does not end there. Today's Bond, Daniel Craig, is there in Sharpe's Eagle. ("He was with us in Uruguay. Such a nice guy.") As is Liz Hurley in Sharpe's Enemy.
Last winter, the Sharpe team had travelled to India to shoot the East India Company series called Sharpe's Challenge (which will not be beamed here just yet). "There are three India stories which we recast in the backdrop of the Anglo-Maratha War, which happened after Waterloo. We used the exteriors of the Jaipur castle and the interiors of Jodhpur fort." Padma Laksmi played a major part.
Sutherland recalls how his lead man Bean (Lord Of The Rings, Goldeneye) was reluctant to go to India. "But now he wants to return (to India)." That is precisely what the team plans to do — come back to shoot two more stories in early 2008, possibly in Madhya Pradesh. SUDESHNA BANERJEE