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Int'l stars shine on Indian films

International actors on Indian screens are a constant neccessity, says Saibal Chatterjee.

india Updated: Aug 13, 2003 20:11 IST

The world is shrinking rapidly and stars of another constellation are coming ever closer. As a result, many Indian filmmakers are venturing beyond their geographical boundaries in search of high-profile projects and famed actors in foreign climes.

From established producer-directors like Ketan Mehta, Ramgopal Varma and Vidhu Vinod Chopra to newer talents such as Kerala's Shyamaprasad and debutant Piyush Jha have set their sights on either helming full-blown international productions or on simply working with actors from the West.

Lagaan, the film that gave popular Indian cinema's process of globalisation the first real fillip, set the trend by roping in several British actors, notably Rachel Shelley and Paul Blackthorne, to play crucial roles. The film's appreciable international success gave mainstream Indian films a degree of visibility that they did not have in the past. The transformation has made it easier for filmmakers in this part of the world to sign up well-known Western actors for their upcoming projects.

For The Rising, a tale of friendship and betrayal set during the years of the Sepoy Mutiny in the mid 19th century, Ketan Mehta has pulled off a major casting coup. He has got the nod from British actor Toby Stephens, last seen as the icy Gustav Graves in the James Bond flick, Die Another Day.

In The Rising, he will essay the role of William Gordon, a British Army officer who befriends Mangal Pandey, played by Aamir Khan. The 34-year-old Stephens, son of Dame Maggie Smith and the late Sir Robert Stephens, is scheduled to land in India in October for a six-month shooting schedule.

Yet another James Bond villain - Stephen Berkoff - has already wrapped up his work on Bokshu - The Myth, an English-language mystery-adventure yarn directed by Shyamaprasad, a former Doordarshan employee who caught the world's attention with his debut feature, Agnisakshi, a few years ago. Berkoff, British actor, writer and theatre practitioner, has been seen in films like Octopussy, Rambo: First Blood Part II, A Clockwork Orange and Barry Lyndon.

Kiwi actor Martin Henderson, who starred in the global blockbuster The Ring, plays the equivalent of William Darcy, in Gurinder Chadha's Bride and Prejudice, which is currently under production in the UK.

By Chadha's own admission, the film is a "Bollywood musical" inspired by Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. Henderson plays an arrogant American who falls in love with Indian girl Aishwarya Rai. It would certainly be interesting to watch how he swings to Anu Malik's music.

Another probable casting coup that could attract widespread media attention in India involves buxom British supermodel Sophie Dahl. She is slated to essay the role of a television news correspondent in debutant Piyush Jha's The King of Bollywood, a light-hearted film about an ageing actor played by Om Puri. Produced by iDreams Productions, The King of Bollywood will be shot on locations in England later this year.

Sophie, 24, is writer Roald Dahl's daughter and her modeling assignments with designers like Karl Lagerfeld and Paul Gaultier has made her a force to reckon with on the British fashion scene.

Although The King of Bollywood would mark her screen debut, the voluptuous Sophie has never been far away from the media spotlight. A few years ago, a nude ad she did for Yves Saint Laurent's Opium perfume had the British Advertising Standards Council in a huge flap. The ad was eventually banned.

While the foreign imports have so far come only from Commonwealth nations, the influx could get far bigger in the months ahead as men like Ramgopal Varma and Vidhu Vinod Chopra begin casting for their upcoming international projects. Chopra's first full-fledged Hollywood project, Move 5, a mystery tale woven around the game of chess, is the result of a tie-up with Outlaw Productions, the company behind the Denzel Washington starrer Training Day.

Varma's super ambitious Ek is being touted as a Rs 100-crore military espionage drama. While the maverick producer-director has finalised the Indian component of his cast, the search is still on for a slew of Hollywood stars for the Bharat Shah-financed film.

Another likely international film that has been pushed a bit on to the backburner is Gautam Ghosh's long-standing pet project on the life and times of Dara Shikoh, Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb's ill-fated brother. The Kolkata-based director is keen to cast Tom Cruise, no less, in one of the film's pivotal roles.

Even if Ghosh fails in his mission, the very fact that Indian filmmakers are increasingly seeking space for themselves in the global showbiz frame is indicative of a major surge in confidence in their ranks.

In the 1980s, Krishna Shah had cast Rex Harrison, John Saxon and Sylvia Miles alongside the likes of Dharmendra and Zeenat Aman in the eminently forgettable heist film.

Things have changed dramatically since then. The presence of international stars in an Indian film project is no longer just an occasional oddity. It is fast assuming the proportions of a constant necessity.