With their tales of passion and power, vendetta and virtue, devotion and deception, the Ramayana and the Mahabharata have provided inspiration to filmmakers down the ages. And they do so again with Prakash Jha and Mani Ratnam ready with a modern retelling of the two Indian epics.
While Jha's Raajneeti is inspired by the Mahabharata, Ratnam's Raavan is said to be loosely based on the Ramayana. Apart from their huge starcast, big budgets and share of controversies, both the movies have been in the news for their story base.
The Mahabharata is about family feuds, the struggle of virtue against vice and a dynastic struggle for the throne. Set in a modern political milieu, Raajneeti, releasing Friday, too is a yarn about family politics, exploitation of relationships and the political war to attain supreme power.
Rumours were rife that Katrina Kaif's character in the movie had an uncanny resemblance to Congress Party chief Sonia Gandhi. But director Jha dismissed the speculation and said: "There is so much hullabaloo about the character being played by Katrina (Kaif), but I want say here that her role has no connection with Sonia Gandhi... the character Katrina represents is one of the characters of the Mahabharata."
Raajneeti, which takes a behind-the-scenes look at the workings of Indian politics, features an ensemble line-up, including the likes of Nana Patekar and Naseeruddin Shah, who embody Lord Krishna and Bhishmapitamah respectively. Ajay Devgn represents Karna and plays Manoj Bajpai's loyal friend who would do anything for him.
"I am playing Virendra Pratap Singh. My role is almost like Duryodhana in the Mahabharata," said Manoj.
Model-turned-actor Arjun Rampal's character is inspired by Bhim.
"When Prakash ji came to me for Raajneeti, he said clearly that the movie was inspired from the Mahabharata and will have every actor playing different characters from it... for that matter my character in the movie is that of modern Bhim," said Arjun.
The film, which also stars heartthrob Ranbir Kapoor, is produced by UTV for around $21 million (Rs.98 crore). It is being distributed by Prakash Jha Productions, Walkwater Media and UTV Motion Pictures with over 2,100 prints worldwide.
Raajneeti will be followed by Raavan, which releases on June 18. It is loosely inspired by the Ramayana. If reports are to be believed, Abhishek Bachchan's character Beera in the action thriller recalls Raavan, the demon king, and Aishwarya Rai's Ragini is inspired from Sita.
Tamil superstar Vikram, who makes his Bollywood debut with the movie, portrays a modern day Rama, Nikhil Dwivedi is the contemporary Lakshman and Govinda plays Lord Rama's devotee Hanuman, who helps the hero in crossing hurdles and finding his wife.
Ratnam, however, claims his film will have a new twist as it doesn't follow the plot of the epic. As in the movie, Abhishek kidnaps Aishwarya who is married to Vikram; as the story progresses, the lady reportedly develops a soft corner for her abductor.
A bilingual, the Tamil version of Raavan stars Vikram in the negative role, Prithviraj, Karthik and Prabhu Ganesan. Aishwarya plays Sita in both the versions.
Co-produced by Reliance Big Pictures and Madras Talkies, Raavan has been made at a budget of Rs.45 crore.
(Robin Bansal can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org )