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Johnny Depp says no to Mumbai

Hollywood actor Johnny Depp is apparently scared to shoot for Shantaram in Mumbai because of security concerns, says Irrfan Khan. Depp wanted to film in another country, preferably South America. Roshmila Bhattacharya tells more.

india Updated: May 18, 2009 20:19 IST
Roshmila Bhattacharya

A couple of months ago, when Mira Nair was in the city to promote writer-friend Sooni Taraporevala’s directorial debut, Little Zizou, she was asked if her “spiritual action film” Shantaram was still on.

Sighing heavily, she’d replied, “I hope so. The Writer Guild strike in Hollywood couldn’t have come at a worse time. Johnny Depp now has been snapped up for the next two years for the next movie in the Pirates of the Caribbean series. Let’s see.”

The Oscar-winning director had spent a year flying in and out of Mumbai as she plotted Shantaram cinematically. She had been in talks with Prabhu Devaa, Arshad Warsi, Shreyas Talpade and Ranvir Shorey for key roles. Today, however, she seems pessimistic about the outcome of the project.

Recently, in the course of an interview, Irrfan Khan who was to play a musician in the film whose sarod heals Depp after he comes out of jail, a tortured soul, admitted that Shantaram didn’t look like it had a chance now. And apparently Depp’s dates and fancy fee aren’t the only problems.

Heart of the matter
“From what I understand, Johnny Depp wasn’t keen to come to India. Brad Pitt and he are good friends and what happened with Brad and Angelina (Jolie) in Mumbai during The Mighty Heart shoot apparently scared him off,” says Khan.

Depp wanted to film in another country, preferably South America. “He requested that Mumbai be recreated in Mexico but Mira was adamant. She pointed out that the heat, dust and magic of Mumbai’s streets wouldn’t be reflected in a set however authentic,” says Khan.

In an earlier interview, Nair had pointed out that Shantaram could be one of the few films that forged a connection between the east and west by showing how the east can challenge a soulless person from the west and transform him completely. “If you ask me, India is the real hero of the film,” she had reiterated. She would definitely not want to relocate.

Big loss
Khan blames the system for the sorry state of affairs. “We don’t know how to take care of business coming our way,” he grouses, pointing out that thanks to a few misguided people, who made an issue out of nothing, our technicians have lost out on big opportunities and the government has lost out on big foreign exchange that would have come in handy during these times of global slowdown. “It’s sad,” he sighs, “and what’s sadder is that we don’t really care.”

Meanwhile, Nair has moved on to Amelia, a bio-pic on the life of Amelia Earhart, the first aviator to fly solo across the Atlantic. She was offered the film in September 2007 but had turned it down then because she was busy with Shantaram. But when they returned to her in January 2008, she took it on.

However, Gregory David Roberts, the writer of the best selling novel with whom Nair has been having extensive talks on what to take and what to leave out, during a trip to Mumbai in March, told a colleague who met him at the Lakme Fashion Week, that the film is on.

“Everything remains the same, including Johnny Depp and Amitabh Bachchan, except for Mira Nair. There will be a new director at the helm who is still being finalised,” he informed, adding that since they had lost the combination dates of Depp and Bachchan, the project would only get underway in 2010. “And this time, I will also be acting in the film,” he asserted.