Henk Rogers In ‘Tetris,’ Explained: Were Henk & Pajitnov Chased By The Soviet Minister In Real Life?


“Tetris,” the Apple TV+ original, not only tells us about the struggle that Henk Rogers and his team from Nintendo had to go through to procure the rights to the game, but also makes us privy to the clash of ideologies between a capitalist and communist state. In the film, Henk Rogers had reached the Soviet Union with a lot of hope, though he knew that negotiating with the people there would be an uphill task. Henk had gone there believing that Elorg had licensed the rights to Robert Stein, who had then entered into an agreement with Mirrorsoft, but he got the shock of his life when Nikolai Belikov, the director of Elorg, told him that Elorg never licensed the video game rights to anyone. Henk knew that there was some confusion on their end, as he had legally taken the rights from a representative of Mirrorsoft. Henk had put his entire life’s savings into procuring the rights to the video game, and he was devastated to know that he had gone all the way for nothing. Meanwhile, Henk was also getting threats from Valentine Trifonov, a member of the central committee of the communist party, to leave the country as soon as possible.

Henk Rogers Meets Alexey Pajitnov

Henk was resilient, and he knew that he couldn’t leave the country unless and until he made the deal. He once again went to meet Belikov, and that’s when he had a fanboy moment and met the creator of the game, Alexey Pajitnov. Pajitnov already had a pensive look on his face, and he told Henk that he didn’t have the right to sell his game, considering the Soviet Union was a communist country and all intellectual property rights were owned by the government. Henk found it criminal that even after such a marvelous creation, Pajitnov couldn’t reap the benefits of his sheer genius. Another revelation came in when Belikov said Elorg hadn’t sold arcade rights either when Henk made a claim that Mirrorsoft had licensed it to Sega already. So basically, the only version of Tetris licensed by Elorg was for personal computers, but Henk found a loophole in the contract that they had entered with Robert Stein. Because they had not clearly defined the term computer, Robert Stein couldn’t be held accountable for the violation of the law.

Henk really wanted to make things right between him and Pajitnov, firstly because he had a lot of admiration for his work and, secondly, because he didn’t have anything against him. He asked Pajitnov if they could meet for dinner, but Pajitnov declined the offer, as having a foreigner in one’s home was considered to be a crime in the country. Pajitnov told Henk that the most he could do was call him, so he wrote his number on a piece of paper and gave it to Henk. Later, Henk saw that Pajitnov had actually written his address on it and he didn’t want to say it out aloud because of the fear of being watched by the KGB. Henk was elated, and he reached Pajitnov’s home, but the problem was that his movements were being tracked by the KGB. Pajitnov knew that something of that sort might be happening, and that is why he didn’t want to trust anybody. At the dinner, Nina, Pajitnov’s wife, accused Henk of stealing her husband’s game, but Henk handled the situation with a lot of grace and told her that he had gotten a license from a big company and that it was not his intention to steal the game. Nina and Pajitnov realized that day that Henk might be a lot of things, but he was surely not a thief. That night, Pajitnov and Henk went out to a club, and that was probably the first step towards trust and mutual respect.

Were Henk And Pajitnov Chased By The Soviet Minister In Real Life?

Pajitnov was a righteous man, and even after being threatened and bullied by Valentine Trifonov and his men, he didn’t stop helping Henk. Pajitnov told Henk how his father’s livelihood was snatched from him when he signed a letter of protest against the Soviet government. Pajitnov told Henk that history was repeating itself, and the officials were trying to condemn him to a similar fate. Pajitnov informed Henk that he could trust no one, as even his interpreter, Sasha, was a KGB spy, and Valentine was using her to keep an eye on Henk. Henk had never realized, even in his wildest dreams, that for doing something as simple as procuring the rights to distribute a game, he would have to put his life at such great risk. Henk realized that the threats were real, and Valentine was not joking when he said that Henk’s life was in danger.

When Henk returned once again to the Soviet Union, towards the end of the film “Tetris,” he knew that he had to run against time and leave the country after he signed on the contract. Valentine and his men were after him, and they would have probably caught them too, if Pajitnov hadn’t arrived to rescue them at the right moment. Henk and the Nintendo team sat in the car, and Valentine and his men chased them. The audience is thrown to the edge of your seats, and one can literally feel the adrenaline when Henk is hurriedly buying the plane tickets and trying to board it while Valentine is frantically searching for him at the airport. The entire chase sequence took us back to the 2012 classic “Argo”, where Ben Affleck and the team of diplomats were being chased by Iranian soldiers. In the film “Tetris,v Henk and his team were successfully able to board the flight and leave the Soviet Union, and Valentine was taken under arrest by the KGB on charges of corruption and abuse of authority.

In real life, though there was the involvement of the KGB and high-ranking politicians of the Soviet Union, Henk Rogers and Alexey Pajitnov were not chased to the airport, as was shown in the climax of the film. It was said that the General Secretary of the Soviet Union’s Communist Party, Mikhail Gorbachev, was keeping a close eye on the negotiations, but he lost track of things as he got caught up in other, more important issues. Jon S. Baird and Noah Pink, the director and writer of “Tetris,” respectively, added the car chase sequence merely to increase the entertainment quotient and stylize the narrative. The creators were of the opinion that the chase sequence established the kind of pressure Henk Rogers and others were under when they were in the Soviet Union negotiating a deal. Henk Rogers has gone on record and said that the film “Tetris” keeps the emotional core of the actual negotiations intact and that its depiction of what the characters were feeling from within is totally on point.

Alexey knew that as long as he stayed in the Soviet Union, he would never receive any royalties for his creation. Henk always told Alexey that he wasn’t going to let him go without making him a millionaire. That’s why Alexey moved to the United States of America in the year 1991, and together with Henk, they started The Tetris Company in the year 1996, after which Alexey started receiving the royalties. Today Henk Rogers has widened his work scope and his company Blue Planet Energy is trying to spread awareness about environmental issues and tackle the problems of climate change and reduce human dependence on fossil fuels.

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Sushrut Gopesh
Sushrut Gopesh
I came to Mumbai to bring characters to life. I like to dwell in the cinematic world and ponder over philosophical thoughts. I believe in the kind of cinema that not necessarily makes you laugh or cry but moves something inside you.

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