21st century’s most controversial book on global economy will be made into a movie, with India as a shooting location
French economist Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century is ready to move from the spine to the screen. The bestselling book on capitalism and inequality, which has sold more than three million copies worldwide, will be adapted into a documentary film by New Zealand director Justin Pemberton, best known for his 2007 documentary, The Nuclear Comeback, which questioned atomic energy’s claim as an environment-friendly fuel. Piketty, who chose the glamorous ambience of the Cannes film festival last month to announce the movie deal, told The Financial Express on Sunday that India was a strong candidate for shooting locations. “I will be happy if the film is shot in India, but that is a decision for the filmmaker,” the Paris-based author said. Pemberton, however, confirmed that India was a choice. “Yes, India is marked as a location, at the moment,” he said. The shooting, which will begin late this summer, will be completed by next year.
Since its publication three years ago, Capital in the Twenty-First Century has courted controversy, mainly in the West, because of a global wealth tax proposed by Piketty. The controversy helped to sell the book and make its author a celebrity on the literary circuit. Now the producers of the Piketty film hope they can make capital out of the book’s popularity. “There were several projects and initially I was sceptical. But when I met Matthew Metcalfe (producer), I understood how enthusiastic he was about the book,” Piketty said, adding, “The idea is to tell the story of inequality inspired by my book.”
Piketty sparked a lively debate with India’s chief economic adviser Arvind Subramanian at the Jaipur Literature Festival in January this year when he sought release of income tax data by the government.
The audience can expect plenty of historical archival footage in the film about the two world wars and financial crises, as well as Honore de Balzac and Jane Austen, to put a prism on the class structure. “There is a lot of evidence about tax and inequality, issues that have been with us for a long time,” Piketty explained. “The objective of the book was to spur a debate on this. My book motivated a discussion. But the ultimate result is for the people to make their own opinion.”
He says he is looking forward to be surprised by the movie. “I expect the movie to teach me more than the way I have seen before,” he said, adding that the world was changing all the time and there were different possible ways to make choices. “I believe in the power of ideas. Of course, it takes more than a book to change the world.”
According to director Pemberton, who is relishing the challenges posed by the huge popularity of the book, Piketty’s argument that global inequality is rising because of the disproportionate income distribution from capital and labour returns would remain the focus. “The challenge will be to create something that the audience don’t expect,” added the director, who has started writing the script. Pemberton, whose previous documentaries include the 2007 racing drama Love, Speed and Race on Grand Prix driver Kim Newcombe killed on the tracks in 1973, says he will be consulting Piketty in the making of the film.
“I read the book like three million other people,” said producer Metcalfe. “I thought this is visual. The author’s style is very narrative and it was obviously a movie. Capital is diamond mines in South Africa, factories in India, homes in London and beach houses in New Zealand,” he added.
According to Metcalfe, who produced the 2013 mountaineering documentary Beyond the Edge, the story of the conquest of the Everest by Edmund Hillary, Piketty’s book is a sweeping saga of wars and revolutions, the rich and poor, and love and loss. “This is the most incredible story,” he said.
Australian production house General Film Corporation, which made Beyond the Edge, and French company, Upside, known for the 2015 Chinese environmental documentary, Behemoth by Zhao Liang, will produce the film.
While Piketty is keen on the film finding a location in India, he is determined to continue his demands for the release of income tax data to discover who has benefited from the country’s growth since 1998 when the data were revealed. “I am waiting for the release of the entire data in the past 15 years,” he said, referring to the release of statistics for only 2013 by the government. “It is not enough. Arvind Subramanian promised it.”