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Bollywood lead in Hollywood flick

entertainment Updated: May 06, 2008 01:43 IST
Neelam Verjee
Neelam Verjee
Hindustan Times
Highlight Story

Vikram “Vik” Suri is a megalomaniac. His hunger for power and control becomes all too evident as the Indian media magnate attempts a takeover of a US satellite company, threatens to precipitate a national security crisis and risks his reputation, his business, and the sanctity of his family.

The fast-paced thriller, combining themes of corporate crime and national security, may contain intrigue and plot twists worthy of a masala flick, but Merger, written by Sanjay Sanghoee, a Mumbai-born investment banker-turned-writer, is heading for Hollywood. Sanghoee’s film company, Relentless Pictures, has partnered with media and entertainment company Eros International Plc, and they are in talks to secure Amitabh Bachchan and Abhishek Bachchan to play lead roles in the film, with shooting slated to begin in October in Michigan. Sheetal Jain, who represents Amitabh Bachchan, confirmed that the actor had received a proposal to play the protagonist and was mulling it over, but that no agreement had been signed yet.

Merger represents a major departure for Indian roles in mainstream Hollywood films, says Sanghoee, 35, who co-wrote the screenplay and also plans to direct the film. The character of Vik Suri would be a lead part in the vein of a “Gordon Gekko” personality, the anti-hero in the film Wall Street, one of the most successful movies ever made about business and finance. “This is unusual for Hollywood films,” said Sanghoee. “Indian actors are usually cast in comedic roles or as minor characters.”

It is also significant because the $15 million (Rs 60.9 crore) budget flick would be a case of the reel imitating the real: in late March, Tata Motors Ltd agreed to buy the marquee Jaguar and Land Rover brands from Ford Motor Co for about $2 billion, a year after a $13.65 billion buy of Corus Group Plc by Tata Steel Ltd.

Sanghoee added, however, that the character of Vik Suri is representative more of a “particular personality type: the egomaniac” that will resonate across cultures, than of an entire nation. Eros is also in talks with Sanghoee to secure the rights to distribute the film in the UK and Asia.

The production marks a growing appetite globally for films with an Indian twist, following the success at the box office of titles including Monsoon Wedding, Bend It Like Beckham and The Namesake, the last year’s release that took in about $13.5 million in ticket sales in the US. Additionally, Mira Nair, who directed Monsoon Wedding and The Namesake, is currently in pre-production for Shantaram, her next film starring Johnny Depp and Amitabh Bachchan, which is based on the story of a heroin addict who reinvents himself as a doctor in the slums of Mumbai. “We are excited about this opportunity and we are optimistic and hopeful that Merger will be the first Hollywood film with a lead Indian star,” said Marcus Stuart, head of corporate and business development at Eros International.

Technically, Monsoon Wedding with its Indian cast and director was a global production between India, the US, Italy, France and Germany. Other films have had Indian-American talent, but the makers of Merger are clear they want a Bollywood star. Along with Amitabh Bachchan, fellow actors Hrithik Roshanand Aamir Khanare the actors in the running to play the role of Vik Suri, while Brillstein Entertainment Partners, the US production house behind the hit television show The Sopranos, is sounding out Josh Hartnett, whose credits include Black Hawk Down and Pearl Harbour, and Kate Bosworth, who starred in Superman Returns, to play the Hollywood leads. Sanghoee envisions Abhishek Bachchan in the role of Arjun Suri, the devoted son of Vik, who is portrayed in the film as being torn between following his conscience, or fulfilling his duty towards his father.

“This is a smart list,” said Sanghoee, on the names of potential actors lined up by Brillstein. “It is not a haphazard list. These are the people we know we could potentially get.” On its cast of special advisers—more firmed up than the acting roles—Merger has Harvey Pitt, the former chairman of the US Securities and Exchange Commission, and Bethany McLean, the Fortune magazine reporter credited with being among the first to reveal trouble at energy giant Enron Corp.

Sanghoee, who was born in Mumbai at the stroke of midnight on 15 August 35 years ago, wrote Merger in 2002, after he was made redundant from his investment banking job at Dresdner Kleinwort Wasserstein. The book was published by Forge Books, a division of St. Martin’s Press Llc, in the US, and has also been published in India by Manjul Publishing. The writer now works by day as a financier at hedge fund Ramius Capital Group.

The Columbia Business School graduate is currently working on his second novel, a thriller about art theft and terrorism titled Portrait of Malice. Discussing how corporate crime has become “a part of our popular culture”, Sanghoee said: “Merger does not take part in the debate. Instead, we simply use the dynamics of global trade as a backdrop for a classic struggle between good and evil.”