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Last Updated: Thursday, 29 December 2005, 11:52 GMT
Cult novel becomes Russian TV hit
The Master and Margarita
The story follows Satan as he causes mayhem in 1930s Moscow
A TV adaptation of cult novel The Master and Margarita has become a ratings hit in Russia despite superstition that it was "cursed".

More than 55% of Russians aged over 18 watched the first part of the 143 million roubles (2.9m) TV series.

Mikhail Bulgakov started his satire in 1928 but it was not published until his death.

It was banned for 16 years until a government-edited version was published in a literary magazine in 1966.

It follows Satan as he causes murder and mayhem in 1930s Moscow.

'Fresh air'

Vladimir Bortko, director of the 10-episode series broadcast on Rossiya state television, said the book embodied freedom for several generations of Russians.

"It was like a breath of fresh air in the dead atmosphere of Soviet writing," he said.

It includes surreal scenes such as the devil's black cat riding a tram, Moscow women running around in their underwear and a naked Margarita hovering above the city on a broom.

Mr Bortko added that for many Soviet citizens, Bulgakov's novel was their first encounter with the Bible - a book discredited by the atheist communist government.

Previous attempts to film The Master and Margarita failed or adapted only limited sections of the story.

Curse 'absurd'

A 1994 movie version was completed but was never screened in public after disappearing from director Yuri Kara's home.

It later resurfaced in a private collection amid a copyright dispute between the director and producers.

Filming on the latest adaptation began in 2000 but was delayed after a descendant of Bulgakov sold the rights to the story to a US firm. They were subsequently bought back by TV channel Rossiya.

However, Mr Bortko said: "All these stories of a curse are absurd.

"The novel had never been filmed for banal reasons - in the Soviet Union it was ideology, and once the regime collapsed, there was no money."

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