Utpal Borpujari

June 4, 2009

The film will bring alive Buddha’s philosophy: Bhuvan Lall

By Utpal Borpujari in Cannes

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 a halt years of uncertainty regarding the project, which at various stages of development had involved the names of internatioanally-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 since last two decades and was announced in a big way last at the 2006 Cannes film festival. Sitting at the India Pavillion at the Market Section of the recent 62nd Cannes Film Festival, the project’s executive producer Bhuvan Lall spoke with Deccan Herald’s Utpal Borpujari about the latest developments about it:

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 had himself played the Buddha in Shyam Benegal’s epic television series “Bharat Ek Khoj”.

What will be 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 tale a story from our region in a global way.

What will the budget of the film? 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 be targeted at the whole world. 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 film has been written by David S Ward, Oscar-winning script
writer of The Sting, Major League, Milagro Beanfield War and Sleepless in Seattle. This is the first time ever that an Oscar-winning screenwriter has been attached to 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 produce the project. It will shot across 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 to the floors in 2010 and get released in 2011. The shooting and post-production details are being finalised right now. The location hunt is  starting with 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 media that Hollywood star Will Smith’s son Jaden Smith, 11, is being sounded out for a major role.

Nothing has been finalised as 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.        

(Published in Deccan Herald, www.deccanherald.com, www.deccanheraldepaper.com, 04-06-2009)


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