Elana Sabharwal has signed a movie deal for her human trafficking novel, Delhi Deception. She is the co-owner of Buhkhara. Picture: SUPPLIED

Cape Town - It could be the next big Bollywood thriller, and it all started in the mind of a Cape Town restaurateur.

Elana Sabharwal, who owns the high-end Indian restaurant group Bukhara with physicist husband Sabi, penned the human trafficking thriller The Delhi Deception. And now the 2013 self-published novel could become a movie after Sabharwal signed with production company Fineline Productions and Aquaworx.

The deal to take the novel to the big screen is an “option for the film rights to produce the motion picture”, which doesn’t bind the producers to make it, but gives them time to source funding for the project.

The novel tells the story of Carla, a Harvard-educated CNN reporter of mixed South African and Indian heritage.

The book moves swiftly from the Western Cape to the Indian sub-continent, where she visits her husband Andrew, a BBC journalist working in Peshawar in Pakistan.

She also visits her friend Elouise Singh, and later meets George, a charming US Embassy employee, for whom she begins to fall.

The story also takes her into the world of sex trafficking.

Sabharwal said businessman Cassim Shariff, who is one of the film project’s partners, contacted her about making a film when he came across a review of her novel in an in-flight magazine.

Parts of Carla’s experiences, such as the settings in the book, are influenced by Sabharwal’s life. She lives in New Delhi for parts of the year.

“About 80 percent of the places are real. The slave market in the story, for example, isn’t. I have started distribution of the book in India. It sells well in Durban, it makes people want to travel,” she said.

But while

some of the places are the same, Sabharwal says the story is totally made up.

“It all fell into place, the red herrings came together to make just the right story. It was beginner’s luck. The book follows a film structure. I read a lot about human trafficking.”

The writer says she could have written a very different book on the topic of human trafficking after researching it, but decided to keep with the idea of a commercial thriller.

Osama bin Laden was in hiding while she was penning the book, and when he was discovered she decided to write the historic event into The Delhi Deception.

Sabharwal said she would one day like to see actress Olivia Wilde, of House fame, play Carla. She says an Indian actress could be Carla too, naming Katrina Kaif as an ideal option. For George she sees Hugh Jackman.

“I see it as a Bollywood/Hollywood crossover, with South African producers. It needs a big name hero.”

Producers Helena Spring and Junaid Ahmed are part of the project’s partnership. Spring has produced more than 28 films, including Yesterday and the recent box office hit Faan se Trein.

Sabharwal says she always wanted to be a movie director.

“I wrote the first draft of the film script, for which I will get a screenplay credit.”


She estimates that the film could be made in about two-and-a- half years.

Weekend Argus