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Who should play Buddha?

Bollywood suggests names for Ashutosh Gowariker’s Rs 200-crore biopic in English Debjeet Kundu and Neha Sharma.

entertainment Updated: May 12, 2009 19:23 IST

From Lagaan to Jodhaa-Akbar, the canvas has vastly expanded for Ashutosh Gowariker. Now the ace director is delving into history yet again to bring Gautama Buddha’s life on screen. Even as this film waits to go on the floors in 2010, the hottest topic is: Who will play the Buddha?

Gowariker himself feels that since the film is in English and the subject “has an international appeal”, anyone suitable could play the lead. “It can be an international face, or someone from here [Bollywood] too,” the director has been quoted as saying. HT City asked filmmakers who they thought was the ideal choice.

Casting the net
The names suggested range from Ranbir Kapoor, Kunal Kapoor, Shah Rukh Khan and Aamir Khan to Hollywood superstars Keanu Reeves, Orlando Bloom and even an ageing Richard Gere — for his love for Buddhism. Though Hrithik Roshan is the choice of veteran director Shyam Benegal, who also wants to make a film on the Buddha with the star in the lead, others prefer actors with softer features. Incidentally, Gowariker himself had played the Buddha in Benegal’s TV epic Discovery of India.

Keanu Reeves played Siddhartha in Bernardo Bertolucci’s Little Buddha, and he is still the best choice, according to 13B director Vikram Kumar. Among Bollywood stars, he picks Ranbir Kapoor. “I think someone playing the Buddha should look good when he is bald. Ranbir would be good. He looks divine and serene,” says Kumar.

For Mahesh Bhatt, the baadshah of Bollywood scores for his personality. “Shah Rukh Khan it is,” says Bhatt. “He has a mystical facet to his personality. Moreover, like most kings, he is shadowed by the feeling of the futility of everything.”
Blue director Anthony D’Souza bets on Aamir Khan because “he gets into the skin of the character”. He adds that Aamir is also how the Buddha’s disciple Sonadanda describes him — “pleasing and good-looking to the eye”.

A closer look
As the project needs extensive research, Gowariker has asked the producers, Spice Enfotainment, to keep the purse-strings very loose — the budget is a reported Rs 200 crore, the highest in Bollywood. Industrialist BK Modi, who heads Spice, had reportedly been wanting to make this film with Bertolucci for a long time, but the project never took off.

Filmmaker Harry Baweja, whose son Hurman is now working with Gowariker, says that given such a budget, the lead actor had better research the Buddha inside out.

Producer Vipul Shah feels, “It has to be a new face, with no image. The portrayal of the Buddha can be truly achieved only if the actor has no past relations with the audience. Viewers must not see a star; they should see only the Buddha.”