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Buddha: Where art thou?

Starting today, for the next two months, director Ashutosh Gowariker and producer Dr Bhupendra Modi will be on a mission to find a face who could play Gautam Buddha...

india Updated: Apr 15, 2010 14:00 IST
Rachana Dubey

Starting today, for the next two months, director Ashutosh Gowariker and producer Dr Bhupendra Modi will be on a mission to find a face who could play Gautam Buddha in their upcoming film, that will hopefully go on the floors towards the end of this year.

Though the name for the project hasn’t been finalised, a website, inviting young and promising actors to audition for the role, has been created. Modi claims that his project would be the first global film from India highlighting a figure that put India on the world map. “The story focuses on the life of Prince Siddharth, his journey towards enlightenment and becoming Buddha,” gushes the producer.

Search is on
Gowariker, who is working on Khelein Hum Jee Jaan Se with Abhishek Bachchan, says that Gautam Buddha’s story had always fascinated him. “He renounced luxury and family to look for the answer to human misery. I need a fresh face to portray the innocence of Prince Siddhartha and the compassion of the enlightened one. I don’t think an established face would really suit the role. So, through our device, the search becomes worldwide,” adds Gowariker.

Once the search is completed and the actor is finalised, the rest of the cast is also expected to fall into place. The producer intends to make the film on a canvas, similar to The Gladiator, so that the epic appeals to young and mature audiences around the world. “A movie like this has been long overdue. Several others have tried making movies on this subject but I always felt there was a lot more to explore,” says Modi.

So far, 16 films have been made, in different forms and languages, on Gautam Buddha. But Modi is the least apprehensive about putting his money on a project that leads with a newcomer and a subject, which is extremely sensitive. “The pre-production is in full swing right now. Monetarily, it’s difficult to say how big the project will be, but it will be one of the most beautiful films one has ever seen,” he asserts.

They were there too but..
In the 1990s, BK Modi, the president of the Maha Bodhi Society, initiated a film on Buddha’s life and claimed to have the support of Dalai Lama Tenzin Gyatso. Director Mira Nair was known to be interested in the project. It’s said that the success of Bertolucci’s The Little Buddha made them feel that another film on Buddha, right then, might become an overdose. When Mira Nair visited the headquarters of the Maha Bodhi Society to work on the project, she was confronted with protests and she abandoned it. It’s known that Buddhists in countries like Sri Lanka abhor the idea of anyone impersonating Buddha in a film.

In 2004, Shekhar Kapur announced his plan to make a movie on Buddha’s life based on Thich Nhat Hanh’s book Old Path, White Clouds. At first he claimed that he’d premiere it in 2006. It was shifted to 2008 and later to 2010. B K Modi promised that the Maha Bodhi Society would finance the project, Dalai Lama Tenzin Gyatso permitted the project and the script would be supervised by Deepak Chopra and American screenwriter Melissa Mathison. Richard Gere and Sharon Stone, had announced that they were willing to play a minor roles.

Hrithik RoshanWould Hrithik Roshan have made a good Buddha?

Shyam Benegal was in talks with Hrithik Roshan for his film on Gautam Buddha. Beyond Dreams Entertainment Limited and Light of Asia Foundation of Colombo were planning it as a joint venture. After working together for almost eight months, the two companies worked out a multi-million project. Atul Tiwari was to write the story, screenplay and dialogue. Location had also been finalised in Sri Lanka. Thousand acres of land near Colombo was acquired to build the set. There’s no buzz on the film now. It was expected to go on the floor in mid-2008 and was slated for a mid-2009 release.

Now, that’s history

The first known film on the life of Gautam Buddha was Buddhadev, produced by Dadasaheb Phalke in 1923. German filmmaker Franz Osten made The Light of Asia (Hindi title-Prem Sanyas) in 1925. Himansu Rai played Buddha. The script was based on the book, The Light of Asia, written by the British poet Sir Edwin Arnold. It became a greater success in Europe than in India. Both of these were silent films.
* In 1952, Dedication of the Great Buddha, directed by Teinosuke Kinugasa and produced by the Japanese film company, Daiei Eiga, was premiered and nominated for the 1953 Cannes Film Festival.
* Gotama, a documentary followed. It was released by the government of India in 1957 as a part of Buddha’s 2500th birthday celebrations. It was directed by Rajbans Khanna and produced by Bimal Roy. It was black-and-white, was shot at archeological sites and had a voice over.
* Angulimal in 1960, wasn’t directly related to Buddha. It related the story of dacoit Angulimal who made a garland of fingers, and eventually met Gautam Buddha and became his follower and a monk.
* Shaka was made in 1961 by Japanese producer Kenji Misumi. It was shown in the US under the name of Buddha.
* In 1964, a Korean film, Seokgamoni was premiered.
* Amrapali, made in 1966, was about the King of Magadh, Ajaat Shatru and a courtesan Amrapali, who eventually becomes Buddha’s follower.
* Little Buddha made in 1993 by Bernardo Bertolucci was primarily a present day film that relates the life of Buddha as an extensive story.
* In 1997, GA Sheshagiri Rao made Buddha. The film didn’t make it to cinema halls and was circulated on DVDs. It’s the longest movie about Buddha, it runs into five DVDs, each running into 180 minutes.
* In 2001, French filmmaker Martin Meissonnier made a documentary, La Vie de Bouddha (Life of Buddha). The film had images of places where Buddha stayed.
* In 2008, K Raja Sekhar made Tathagata Buddha, in Telugu, but it was dubbed in Hindi. It relates Buddha’s life story until his parinirvana (moksh). The film is only available on DVD.