January 23, 2020
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Movie Mogul, Maybe

Dara Shikoh may reign at last - courtesy an Indo-Hollywood venture

Movie Mogul, Maybe

By any reckoning, project Dara Shikoh has all the ingredients of an epic movie: a philosopher prince who might have given India a different destiny, palace intrigues, bigotry, scheming generals amidst a rich flowering of art, architecture and music. All with an ambience of a 17th century populace - people who were witness to the bloody climax of a deadly power struggle. Calcutta-based filmmaker Gautam Ghosh’s ambitious project to resurrect a poignant chapter of India’s history on celluloid has naturally stirred critical interest. While Ghosh doesn’t welcome questions about his concept, there’s more to the buzz: the project envisages a tie-up with Hollywood with Tom Cruise playing one of the roles.

As the project is barely beyond the drawing board stage, Ghosh is naturally circumspect. "I don’t want to talk about it, there are so many things to settle first... I’ll definitely make this film, but work has not actually started. I’ve bought exclusive film rights from writer Shyamal Gangopadhyay, whose work on Dara’s life impressed me. But I’ll only be able to speak more definitely after my Europe visit two months later. It must be a co-production between India, Europe and the US," he says. But industry insiders say some progress has been made since the American director of Beyond the Himalayas spoke to Cruise about Ghosh’s project, which led to Cruise expressing interest in the proposal. And if things go according to plan, Cruise should be playing the Italian traveller Manucci in the film. Incidentally, the recent success of Ghosh’s documentary The Silk Route, that took him to many parts of China, has attracted renewed interest in his work after repeated screenings on Discovery channel.

Industry watchers also point to the daunting scale of the project. "A project of this magnitude would involve a massive canvas and matching expenses. Think of Gandhi! It has to be an Indo-Hollywood collaboration. Ghosh has to handle rounds of painstaking negotiations, arrange a thousand tie-ups. No wonder he doesn’t want to talk about it," says film critic Swapan Ghosh. But for others, it’s the relevance of the doomed prince’s life that’s more important.

Chief among them are Ghosh and Gangopadhyay. For both, Dara has been something of an obsession. Says the versatile Gangopadhyay (he’s been a teacher, journalist, factory hand and a successful farmer), "Dara isn’t just a figure of history, he was a man centuries ahead of his time. He’s the forerunner of liberal secularism - later followed by Gandhi, Azad and Bose. He retains contemporary relevance, especially today when religious fundamentalism is again causing concern. It was Dara who arranged for the repair of railings guarding the Somnath temple and arranged for the translation of Sanskrit religious texts which he’d studied himself." Gangopadhyay also has an interesting insight into his eventual killing, "The mullahs and his own sister, Roshanara, were more responsible for his brutal murder in prison than Aurangzeb, who was initially reluctant to countenance such barbarity."

Gangopadhyay has so far completed two volumes of what may prove to be a seminal biography on Dara, with a third volume coming out later. "I’ve covered all but the last six years of his life," he says, pointing out that he’s relied on extensive historical research and published material. The project germinated when Ghosh first met the writer to discuss his book, part of which was serialised in a local newspaper. "He suggested the film and later paid me a fee," says Gangopadhyay. While preliminary work is slated to begin after the puja season, critics think the writing of the script will be crucial, since this is where Ghosh and Gangopadhyay must ensure agreement.

But all told, the buzz has spread some excitement in industry circles. Says veteran actor . Viswanathan, "Such Indo-Hollywood joint ventures are welcome. We’ll get a much-needed exposure, which can help our industry immensely." And if that happens while bringing a superb, yet somewhat forgotten symbol of Indian syncretic faith to life - all the better.

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