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Taj Mahal sagas: Too many?

Two films on Taj Mahal will face off against each other at the global box office this year, says Saibal Chatterjee.

india Updated: Aug 08, 2003 19:28 IST

It has the makings of a David vs. Goliath battle: two films on the Taj Mahal – one a Rs 6-crore venture, the other a Rs 65-crore extravaganza – will face off against each other at the global box office this year.

To add a dash of intrigue to the emerging scenario, at least two other films on Emperor Shah Jahan’s timeless ode to the love of his life are in the pipeline.

Does the market have space to accommodate so many Taj Mahals? Are we headed for a repeat of last year’s Shaheed Bhagat Singh story? Mercifully, each of the upcoming Taj Mahal ventures appears to be aimed at a distinct target audience.

That wasn’t the case with last year’s ill-advised Bhagat Singh bonanza. Five films on the life and times of the martyr made it to movie halls around the country at roughly the same time. In fact, two of the biggest films of the lot, one directed by Rajkumar Santoshi, the other produced by Sunny Deol, were released on the same day. The result: all the Bhagat Singh films sank without a trace.

Anjum Rajabali, who scripted Santoshi’s The Legend of Bhagat Singh, attributes the failure of his film – and by extension of the four others – to “the mad scramble to adapt the freedom fighter’s life for the screen”.

When films with similar themes are unleashed simultaneously, they leave behind a trail of disasters. The history of Mumbai films is strewn with many such examples but the most notable occurred in the mid-1990s. As many as three rip-offs of the Julia Roberts starrer Sleeping With The Enemy were made in Mumbai. Only one of them, Agnisakshi, with Manisha Koirala in the lead, made any headway at the box office. The other two copycat ventures, Yaarana (starring Madhuri Dixit) and Daraar (featuring Juhi Chawla), bombed.

The sudden Taj Mahal craze that has gripped filmmakers, however, has a somewhat different spin on it. Each of the four films on the monument of love is different from the other three. While Akbar Khan’s Taj Mahal: The Eternal Love Story, being shot primarily in Jaipur’s Mehrangarh Fort, is an extravagant recreation of the Mughal era, first-time director Robin Khosla’s Taj Mahal: A Monument of Love sees the Shah Jahan-Mumtaz Mahal love story through the imagination of an American girl on a visit to Agra.

The two films are, however, likely to clash commercially as both have international ambitions. Khosla’s film, an Indo-Canadian co-production, has been made primarily in English and dubbed in Hindi. The international version has only a couple of songs; the version meant for the Indian circuit has four.

Canadian theatre actor Raghu Raj, debutante Purnima Patwardhan (who is film and television actress Bhagyashree’s sister), Moonmoon Sen, Kulbhushan Kharbanda and Sabrina Avilla. Though part produced by a Canadian company, IndieVisions, Khosla’s Taj Mahal hinges on the expertise of some of India’s best technicians – art director Nitin Desai, cinematographer Venu, editor Sreekar Prasad and costumer Neeta Lulla. The low-budget film is, therefore, is unlikely to be low on technical finesse.

Twenty-something Khosla, a graduate of Temple University, Philadelphia, hit upon the Taj Mahal idea simply as a response to world’s unquenchable interest in the magnificent marble monument. "As a student in the US, I would constantly be asked questions about the Taj Mahal. It obviously has worldwide appeal,” says the young director. He shot Taj Mahal: A Monument of Love in Kashmir, Agra and Mumbai on the back of two years of concerted research.

Akbar Khan spent even longer in developing his magnum opus. He, too, intends to market an international version of Taj Mahal: The Eternal Love Story, which is fast nearing completion. The film features Manisha Koirala, Kim Sharma, Arbaaz Khan, Zulfi Syed and Sonya Jahan.

His stars may not have cost him the earth, but the sets have, which perhaps explains the film’s huge budget. "The story demands elaborate sets and lavish costumes,” says Khan, who hasn’t had much luck so far either as an actor or a director. Will Taj Mahal change the course of his career?

The two other Taj Mahal films on the anvil are unlikely to cross each other’s path, nor are they expected to pose a threat to Akbar Khan and Robin Khosla’s productions. Bharat Bala, whose fame rests on the music videos he shot for A.R. Rahman’s Vande Mataram, is in the midst of an IMAX project that stars Aishwarya Rai as Mumtaz Mahal. The film has been in the making for eons and not much has been heard of it in recent months.

The fourth film on the Taj Mahal, if it gets off the ground, could perhaps turn out to be the biggest of them all. Hollywood giant Warner Bros is keen to fund an international venture on the romance that yielded the wonder. It will reportedly be based on a script penned by a Pakistani journalist, Kamran Abbas.

The bits and pieces of information emerging from Los Angeles have fuelled much speculation, but this might not be the right time for an US-backed film on the Taj Mahal. The monument has been in the limelight of late for political noises pertaining to things unrelated to its ethereal beauty and securing permission to shoot on its precincts might not be easy.

But no matter what happens to Warner Bros’ grand plans, the Monument of Love could indeed turn out to be an Eternal Success Story at the box office if Khan and Khosla play the game right.