Did Tarun Tejpal’s legal issue dissuade Paatal Lok makers from giving him credit?

The journalist refused to speak much but requested all to clear doubts by simply reading his book ‘The Story of My Assassins’. Interestingly, a source tells us that Paatal Lok was earlier titled Assassins

By Mayur Lookhar

Paatal Lok [2020]

It’s been over two weeks since Clean Slate Filmz’ crime thriller Paatal Lok [2020] began streaming on Amazon Prime Video.  Created by screenwriter Sudip Sharma, Paatal Lok has received rave reviews for its gripping narrative, intense characters and fine performances.  Sadly, the show also has courted few controversies.  Chiefly among them is the supposed similarity between the web series and controversial journalist Tarun Tejpal’s book The Story of My Assasins [2009]. 

Both the book and Sharma’s web series revolves around the assassination plot of a journalist.  Tejpal’s book was based on his own assassination attempt.  The web series surrounds the assassination attempt of one noted TV journalist Sanjeev Mehra [Neeraj Kabi]. In the book, it is the journalist who uncorks the identities of his hitmen, while in Paatal Lok, it is an honest Delhi cop Hathi Ram Chaudhary [Jaideep Ahlawat] who investigates the motive behind the murder plot.

Tarun Tejpal

Interestingly, Sudip Sharma reportedly acknowledged that Tejpal’s book was a small inspiration for the web series.

“We started off from there and then various other inspirations came in. I read The Story of My Assassins about a decade ago. I’ve been working on this show for the last 4-5 years. Given that it was just a starting point, and given how much we have moved away from the source material, it didn’t feel wrong,” Sharma told The New Indian Express.

If the writer himself has claimed that Tejpal’s book was a source material then why is there no mention of Tejpal’s book in the credits?  The show’s disclaimer called it a work of fiction and any resemblance to any actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.  

We contacted Tarun Tejpal who refused to speak much but simply replied via a text message saying, “ I am not speaking to the media. But a simple way to clarify all your doubts is to read some, if not all, of the book.”

We haven’t’ read the book, but there have been reports, social media posts drawing similarities between the book and the web series. In Paatal Lok, the four accused of Mehra’s assassination attempt are Vishal ‘Hathoda’ Tyagi, Mary Lyngdoh aka Cheeni, Tope Singh, and one Kabir M.

Columnist Rajyasree Sen tweeted about few similarities between the book and the web series.

“Just started reading it & even the character names of The Story Of My Assassins & Paatal-Lok are the same. Tejpal’s book’s assassins are Chini, Tope Singh, Chakku. The journalist who has an affair is Sara. The plagiarisers didn’t even bother to change the names! Lazy and thieves.”

As per an article in OutlookIndia.com,  Tejpal’s book has one of the assassins named as Bhupinder Tyagi, whereas Paatal Lok has Vishal ‘Hathoda’ Tyagi.  The same article also claimed that in his next book, Tejpal named the character as Hathoda Tyagi.

What’s intriguing is that a reliable source today informed us that Paatal Lok was initially titled as Assassins.  “The show was earlier called Assasins.   But since Tejpal’s book had assassins in the title, it was then changed to Jamuna Paar.  However, that title was then finally changed to Paatal Lok, because the four accused came from there,” said the source.

We contacted Sudip Sharma’s assistant Poulami Bhattacharya to seek some clarity from Sharma but the assistant said that the screenwriter is done commenting on the issue.

There is no doubt that there are few striking similarities between the book and the web series. In an ideal scenario, perhaps Tejpal’s book should have merited a mention in the credits.

We’ve seen in the last few years that certain films faced criticism for associating with a person who was accused of sexual harassment.  Did Amazon fear a public backlash and so refrained from mentioning Tejpal or his book or even approaching him in the first place? Or was Tejpal approached and is there any understanding between Amazon and the journalist to do away with the credit. Tejpal’s brief reply doesn’t seem to suggest that the OTT major had kept him in the loop. Reportedly, writer Sharma claimed that Tejpal was never involved in development.or production

“Look, I am not sure but there were some talk that perhaps Amazon was worried to give any credit to Tejpal or mention his book because the journalist was accused of sexual assault. So, they may have decided against mentioning him for fear of any backlash from the public,” said the source.

Another interesting aspect is the report by Mid-Day.com that Amazon US had initially dropped the show in 2018. The same report also quoted a Amazon Prime Video spokesperson as saying, “”Paatal Lok is loosely inspired by an idea from the book. Creator-writer Sudip Sharma took inspiration from it, and with his team of writers, crafted a nuanced and immersive crime thriller. Tarun Tejpal was not involved in any phase of the development and production of the show. It is the story of an honest cop who unravels a deep nexus of crime. The characters are fictional and not based on any real-life personalities or incidents.”

We sent text messages to Vijay Subramaniam, Director and Head of Content, Amazon Prime Video seeking clarity whether there is any truth to the above points, but there was no reply till the time of this article going for publish.

In 2013, Tejpal was accused of sexual assault by a colleague.  The Tehelka co-founder had later admitted to a certain misconduct and taken a leave of six months. The case is sub-judice.

Even as Paatal Lok continues to make waves, this controversy surrounding its story line perhaps takes some sheen off it.  Tejpal has currently remained tight lipped.  One and will have to wait and see whether we’ve read the final word on this controversy.

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