Baz Luhrmann, who began filming F Scott Fitzgerald’s 1925 novel, The Great Gatsby, last September, will unveil it on December 25. The period romance drama has Titanic star Leonardo DiCaprio as Jay Gatsby, a millionaire with shady business connections and an obsessive love for Daisy Buchanan, played by Oscar-nominated, An Education actor Carey Mulligan. Spider-Man Tobey Maguire is his friend Nick Carraway, a bond salesman and the story’s narrator, and Amitabh Bachchan, the Jewish mafia figure, Meyer Wolfsheim.
Quiz Bachchan on his 3D Hollywood debut and he laughs, “It’s just a one-scene appearance that I did as a gesture of friendship for Baz, I didn’t even charge for it.” The writer-co-producer-director, famous for films like Romeo + Juliet (1996), Moulin Rouge! (2001) and Australia (2008), was dropped in at Bachchan’s Mumbai office a couple of years ago.
In 2011, he had called with the offer that gave the Bollywood icon an insight into how Hollywood functioned. “It’s amazing the detailing, diligence and research that goes into a project,” he marvels. “Since this is a great work of literature, we have to get it perfectly right— from the look and language to the body language.”
Bachchan is there in just one scene in a restaurant, but flew down to read the script about six times with co-actors Leonardo and Tobey, during which the scene was minutely discussed. He then joined the entire cast, from the stars to the junior artistes, for another script reading that was recorded. “After a short break we returned for another reading, this time with some movements that might go into the part, watched by a ‘live’ audience of about 40. They offered their opinion when the floor was thrown open to them and sparked off another discussion amongst the players,” he recalls, adding that this “fantastic experience” for what would be half an hour’s work back home, went on for about three days, followed by costume sizing.
He returned for the shoot in October and after costume, hair and make-up, was told to get “acclamatised” by walking around the opulent sets. “Everyone is so disciplined and cooperative. Tobey and Leonardo would come down to rehearse my lines with me and for an over-the-shoulder shot, stand next to the camera and give cues,” says Bachchan.
Besides the novel and CDs, he was given a diction coach who emailed him for three months, then sat with him for two days to ensure he got his Jewish-American accent. “On the sets, if anyone wanted to talk to Baz about anything other than The Great Gatsby, he wouldn’t listen,” smiles Bachchan. “He wouldn’t stir out of the New York of the 1920s."