Big budget period epics are back...

By Subhash K. Jha, IANS

imageMumbai, May 16 (IANS) Sanjay Leela Bhansali's "Devdas" seems to have triggered off a penchant for literary costume dramas in Bollywood.

This week Shyam Benegal released his Rs.280 million ($6.4 million) epic on the life and times of Indian revolutionary Subhas Chandra Bose, "Bose: The Forgotten Hero", the most expensive period film about a true-life political character ever made.

Its makers Sahara India claim that the film's box office potential is of secondary interest. They said they wanted the "forgotten hero" to be cinematically resurrected.

And now Vidhu Vinod Chopra is ready with this season's next lavish period epic. His take on Bengali litterateur Sarat Chandra Chatterjee's "Parineeta" would be interesting to watch. He takes two contemporary stars Sanjay Dutt and Saif Ali Khan into an old-world Bengali era and casts a new girl Vidya Balan in the role that Meena Kumari immortalized in Bimal Roy's version of "Parineeta" 50 years ago.

Besides, there was Rituparno Ghosh who did Rabindranath Tagore's "Chokher Bali" with Aishwarya Rai in Bengali. The work was dubbed in Hindi to cash in on the leading lady's national bracket.

J.P. Dutta who has so far made contemporary films, most of them with men at the forefront, is all set to recreate the mannerisms of the nawabs. He will soon direct a new version of the life and times of Lucknowi poetess-courtesan Umrao Jaan Adaa.

Interestingly, this story was filmed by Muzaffar Ali 23 years ago with Rekha in the lead. Dutta had this project with him for 24 years.

"I had just launched my first directorial venture 'Sarhad' when my dad (writer-director O.P. Dutta) told me about a script he had written based on the life of the courtsan Umrao Jaan Adaa. The novel was written by Meer Hadi Hassan Ruswa. My dad had wanted to direct it. Today I'm all set to realize my father's dream."

The visionary in J.P. Dutta is sure of one thing. "This would be my own take on the novel, nothing to do with anything done by anyone else."

The current stream of literary/period epics seems sure of going off at a tangent even at the risk of offending purists. There was a hue and cry when Sanjay Leela Bhansali interpreted Sarat Chandra Chatterjee's "Devdas" in a unique way. Today other major filmmakers too seem to be determined to take India's rich literary tradition into unexpected areas of cinematic expression.

"There's no joy in doing a book the way it has already been done. A work of art is open to timeless interpretations," says Dutta.