Nikolai Belikov In ‘Tetris,’ Explained: Was Belikov Being Pressured By The KGB In Real Life?

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There were many characters in Jon S. Baird’s film “Tetris,” who harbored a capitalist instinct and wanted to make profits by selling the rights to the video game, but there was probably only one person who was fighting a battle to protect his principles and uphold his ideologies. Nikolai Belikov believed in the idea of his nation, and he was ready to wage war against the entire system to protect it. Henk Rogers meets Nikolai Belikov in the film “Tetris” when he goes to the Soviet Union to make a deal with Elorg, the government-owned company that had a monopoly over the trade of computer hardware and software. Belikov made it a point to let Rogers know that he was not in his homeland and that things were not going to be easy for him. 

Elorg came under the department of foreign trade that was headed by Valentine Trifonov, and though Belikov was the director of the company, Trifonov had the last word in matters of national importance. The foreign trade department got interested when Rogers came to make a deal for the licensing of the video game rights of Tetris, and they were keeping a very close eye on the negotiations that were happening. The first day when Rogers met Belikov, he was told that Elorg had not licensed the rights to video games to anybody, and that left Rogers perplexed, as up until then, he had believed that he had legally procured the rights from Mirrorsoft. Rogers was very clear that he was not leaving the country without making a deal, even if there was an imminent threat to his life. He said that he would clear up the confusion about the console rights and then make a deal regarding the handheld rights too. 


Why Did Belikov Want Henk To Have Tetris Rights? 

Through Rogers, Belikov got to know the loopholes that were in the contract that Elorg had entered into with Robert Stein. The contract didn’t define the word computer properly, which is why Robert Stein hadn’t violated the law by assuming that it also covered console rights. Belikov was as confused as Rogers was, and he was also trying to figure out what exactly was happening. Intellectual property rights as a field was still evolving, and it seemed like neither the Soviet Union nor any other nation had previously encountered such complexities regarding the subject matter.

Meanwhile, Kevin Maxwell had met Trifonov and told him that as a barter for the rights to Tetris, he would give Russia the exclusive publishing rights to Collier’s encyclopedia, considering Kevin knew that in a communist state, this is how things worked. Trifonov’s intentions became clear when he asked Kevin how much money he would be willing to offer if he brokered the deal and gave the rights to Maxwells. Kevin didn’t know the politics and corruption that went behind these deals, which is why his father, Robert Maxwell, had to take the reins in his hands. Robert offered Trifonov a sum of $300,000 in exchange for the rights. Trifonov would have easily been able to take the bribe and strike a deal with the Maxwells, but the problem was that there were few patriots amidst the corrupt ministers who still believed in the idea of communism and had an immense amount of pride and love for their nation. Belikov got a whiff of what Trifonov was trying to do, and he was totally against it, but obviously, he couldn’t voice his concerns to anybody in the legislature since Trifonov had the entire system rigged and under his control.

Belikov made a new contract, according to which the PC rights that he had earlier given to Robert Stein were also taken back from him. Belikov wanted to give the rights to Henk as he was the only one who was offering Elorg royalty, but Trifonov came and told him that the rights would be sold to Mirrorsoft, even if they were not offering a better deal. Kevin Maxwell was made to sign the letter of intent, against the wishes of Belikov, according to which he had to make a payment of one million dollars in a week’s time to bag the deal for the handled rights of Tetris. Belikov had understood that he would have to do something behind Trifonov’s back if he wanted to conduct a fair game. Belikov told Henk to talk to his people on the Nintendo team and make a real offer in a week’s time for the worldwide handheld video game rights to Tetris. Unlike Trifonov, Belikov was not doing it for money; he was doing it for the welfare of his nation, set a good precedent for the generation to come, and uphold the principles that he believed in with all his heart.

Howard Lincoln, the chairman of Nintendo in the United States, had gone to strike a deal with Robert Maxwell, as he had realized that Henk Rogers wouldn’t be able to get the rights. Meanwhile, in the Soviet Union, Belikov went to meet Alexey Pajitnov and told him how helpless and disappointed he felt to see the traitors selling his great country for their own greed and selfish interests. He told Pajitnov that Mirrorsoft was going to bag the deal for Tetris, and he was quite sure that he would be eventually removed from his position as director of Elorg. He requested Pajitnov to send a fax to Henk Rogers informing him that the transfer of rights was subject to the payment of $100,000, which Mirrorsoft hadn’t paid up until then. Belikov urged Rogers to come to the Soviet Union immediately and make an offer before the Maxwells did. Howard Lincoln asked Henk why he chose to trust this man who had given him such a hard time and who, up until then, seemed not interested in making a deal at all. Henk said something that spoke a thousand words about the kind of man Belikov was: he said that in the entire fiasco, where everybody wanted to grab their share, Belikov was the only man who was risking his life without the incentive of getting any sort of remuneration. In fact, he knew that he would lose everything he had if Trifonov came to know that he had been secretly passing information to Rogers.

Belikov made sure that Henk Rogers and the Nintendo team got the rights. He stood against the entire system and made a statement that there were still a few good men left in the country who were willing to fight for its honor and integrity.


Was Nikolai Belikov Being Pressured By The KGB In Real Life?

Nikolai Belikov’s character is based on a real person, who was, in reality, the director of Elorg (a short form for Elektronorgtechnica) when Rogers had come to the Soviet Union to purchase the rights to Tetris. Elorg was a state-owned company, and after the fall of the Soviet Union, it was taken over by Nikolai Belikov.

In real life as well, Nikolai Belikov was under a lot of pressure from the KGB and politicians, and the entire negotiations taking place in the Elorg headquarters were actually being recorded by the authorities. We don’t know if the KGB agents were physically present during the negotiations but it would be safe to assume that they kept track of each and every development as it was probably the first time that an intellectual property war was being fought on their soil. Later when everything settled down and Henk and Pajitnov started The Terris Company, Elorg shared ownership with them. Belikov came to the United States of America as Nintendo wanted him to testify for their cause against Robert Stein. After the dissolution of Elorg in the year 2005, Nikolai Belikov passed the shares he held in the Tetris Company to Rogers and Pajitnov. 

Most of the things shown in the film “Tetris” about Belikov are entirely true. Belikov did change the contract that Elorg had entered with Robert Stein, and he redefined the word computer in it. Belikov was happy to help Rogers and Nintendo, and as shown in the film, he did tell them that he would be willing to sell them the rights to consoles as well, in addition to the handheld ones, if they were able to make a proper offer in a time span of three weeks. We don’t know if Belikov was being pressured by the politicians or not or if he actually risked his life to give Nintendo the deal, but we know for sure that he wanted to make a fair deal, even if it meant going against the entire system.


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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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