'The film will bring alive Buddha's philosophy'

The Inquirer

'The film will bring alive Buddha's philosophy'

Ashutosh Gowariker of ‘Lagaan’, ‘Swades’ and ‘Jodhaa Akbar’ fame will direct industrialist B K Modi-led Spice Infotainment-produced magnum opus ‘Buddha’. This brings to an end years of uncertainty regarding the project, which at various stages of development had involved the names of internationally-acclaimed directors Bernardo Bertolucci, Mira Nair and Shekhar Kapoor, new-age guru Deepak Chopra and Hollywood star Richard Gere. The English-language film has been in gestation for the last two decades and was announced in a big way last at the 2006 Cannes film festival. Sitting at the India Pavilion at the market section of the recent 62nd Cannes Film Festival, the project’s executive producer Bhuvan Lall spoke to Utpal Borpujari of Deccan Herald about the latest developments. Excerpts:

So, finally Ashutosh Gowariker will direct this magnum opus, and that’s final, right?

Yes, and there cannot be a better director than Ashutosh to helm this project. He is not only a filmmaker with great sensibilities but also has the ability to look at cinema from an international perspective because of his exposure to world cinema as a film festival freak in his earlier days. More importantly, most people have forgotten that he himself had played the Buddha in Shyam Benegal’s epic television series ‘Bharat Ek Khoj’.

What will be the scale of the project?

The scale will be truly international. There will be nothing low cost about it. It will be the most expensive film ever to come out of India, and will tell a story from our region in a global way.

What will the budget of the film be? Various speculations have quoted figures like $120 million and Rs 300 crore.

We haven’t yet put a number on it. All I can say is that the film will be big even by Hollywood standards.

Will the film, because of its subject, be targeted more at specific regions of the world?

Buddha’s philosophy is something the whole world knows about. Hence, this film will have universal appeal. Of course, there will be more than usual interest about it in large parts of Asia, where Buddhism is the leading religion. The film will bring alive Buddha’s philosophy.

But why a film on Buddha?

Gautam Buddha was the first global Indian figure. No matter where in the world you go today, you will find his followers. His amazing life story is waiting to be put on the big screen.

Who are the international talents that are involved with the project?

The script has been written by David S Ward, Oscar-winning scriptwriter of ‘The Sting’, ‘Major League’, ‘The Milagro Beanfield War’ and ‘Sleepless in Seattle’. This is the first time ever that an Oscar-winning scriptwriter will be working for an Indian film. We are confident of coming up with a film of unmatched sweep and scale. Gowariker is one of India’s finest directors and we have given him a global playing field. Michel Shane of Steven Spielberg’s ‘Catch Me If You Can’ fame, Anthony Romano and I will executive the project. It will be shot in many countries, including in India. We have just roped in International Creative Management, one of the leading companies representing topmost talent in Hollywood, to package and market the film for us. It has indeed taken a long while for us to get the right mix, but now we are finally ready to roll.

Will the book be based on ‘Old Path White Clouds,’ a novel written by Vietnamese monk Thich Nhat Hanh, in which Buddha’s life is seen through the eyes of a young buffalo boy?

The rights of the book has been taken. But Buddha’s life goes much beyond one perspective. That’s what we can say at this moment.

What is the schedule for the film’s shooting and release?

It will go on the floors in 2010 and be ready for release in 2011. The shooting and post-production details are being finalised right now. The location hunt is starting with the Himalayas in north India, and it will be shot in several countries.

Any decision on the cast yet? There are reports in a section of the media that Hollywood star Will Smith’s son Jaden Smith, 11, is being sounded out for a major role.

Nothing has been finalised yet. And till the time formal announcements are made, there will be as usual lots of rumours! A hunt is now on for an actor who can play the title role. It could be anybody — a Hollywood actor, an established Bollywood name or an outright newcomer.

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