Utpal Borpujari

December 3, 2009

‘Sir Ben wants to tell the world the Taj story’

Sir Ben Kingsley, who swept the world off its feet through his performance as the Father of the Nation in Richard Attenborough’s Gandhi, seems to have set his eyes firmly on India now. Even as his Hindi film debut, Leena Yadav’s Teen Patti costarring Amitabh Bachchan, is nearing completion, Sir Ben is getting ready to start his dream project Taj, an epical film on the legendary Shah Jahan-Mumtaz Mahal love story. His wife and actress Daniela Lavender, who recently appeared alongside singing diva Mariah Carey in the film Precious, is not only acting in the film but also actively involved in its production. To be produced under Sir Ben’s SBK Productions banner, Taj will be shot extensively in India next year. Lavender, who has recently completed her tour with the British Shakespeare Company’s production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and starred in films alongside Sacha Baron Cohen, Jeremy Irons and Michael Gambon, shared her thoughts on the project with Deccan Herald’s Utpal Borpujari from London on the eve of her travel to Goa along with Sir Ben to attend the 40th International Film Festival of India:

Why a project on Taj Mahal?

Because the Taj Mahal has just been chosen as one of the Seven Wonders of the World and my husband wishes to bring to the world’s attention the fascinating circumstances around which this great monument was built. We think India has great treasures that are a source of inspiration to people from different cultures so we wish to tell this story to the whole world.

What will be the focus of the project – the Shah Jahan-Mumtaz Mahal love story or the story of the construction of the monument with the love story forming the backdrop?

Taj will focus on the construction of the monument as a direct response to their extraordinary relationship.

What are the characters you and Sir Ben are portraying? And who are the Indian cast members? There were news reports earlier regarding Aishwarya Rai playing Mumtaz Mahal – does that still hold?

Sir Ben is portraying Shah Jahan I’m portraying his first wife Kandahari Begum. We are yet to approach Indian cast and crew members apart from of course Aishwarya who has committed herself to the role of Mumtaz.

What is the production schedule of the film, and who will be the important crew members like the director and the cinematographer?

We are aiming for autumn 2010. However, the film is yet to be fully financed so no key personnel has been approached.

What prompted you to take up a historical project when the focus globally is more on contemporary India?

The issues explored in the film, especially love, are completely contemporary. The beauty of modern India is that she wholly embraces that ancient heritage.

How big will the film be in terms of production scale and budget?

I believe it’s in the region of 25 million dollars. The film goes from the domestic to the Epic levels.

Will there be more than one version, for the international and Indian audiences?

We intend to film in English. But it will be dubbed or subtitled into many languages of the world.

(Published in Deccan Herald, www.deccanherald.com, www.deccanheraldepaper.com, 29-11-2009)



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