Bollywood wakes up to great Indian epic

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By Priyanka Khanna

New Delhi, Sep 21 (IANS) With Abhishek Bachchan starrer "Drona" ready to hit the screen and nearly a dozen cinematic interpretations of mythological literature of ancient India under production, it seems Indian filmmakers have woken up to the magic of epics that have enough drama to outmatch all the Harry Potters and Aslans ("Narnia") put together.

Described as a film rooted in the vibrant tapestry of Indian mythology, "Drona" is a modern tale of one man's voyage through the labyrinths of mystic, myths and legendary legacies. Abhishek teams up with Priyanka Chopra in the film, directed by Goldie Behl.

Way back in 1913, Dadasaheb Phalke's debut film "Raja Harishchandra" had set the trend for mythological films in India. The use of mythological and theological characters, particularly gods and deities, was a norm earlier in the century.

Though imageries faded over time, the influence of ancient mythology, religion and folklore continues to inspire nearly every single film made in India.

But with films like "The Fellowship of the Ring", "Harry Potter", "Narnia" and "Eragon" creating a global market for high fantasy films, the time is ripe for Indian moviemakers to revisit the great Indian epics.

It is not just feature films. Animation and game-makers are also waking up to the untapped potential of repackaging the genre.

Uru Patel's "Hanuman", starring Keanu Reeves and Shilpa Shetty as Ram and Sita respectively, is being rolled out with an estimated budget of $60 million.

Veteran filmmaker Rajkumar Santoshi is hoping to make "Ramayan" with an international appeal with Ajay Devgan and Kajol as the lead for a film that will have a no-holds-barred budget.

Ekta Kapoor, queen of soap operas, is going full speed to interpret "Mahabharat".

Critically-acclaimed independent filmmaker Aparna Sen wants to make "Ramayan" from Sita's point of view in English and market it internationally.

On the other hand, Bengali director Rituparno Ghosh is reportedly interested in filming "Mahabharat" from Draupadi's point of view for an international audience with Bollywood's Bipasha Basu in the lead role.

BR Films too want to make movies inspired by epics and religion after Ramanand Sagar, pioneer of the small screen, mesmerised millions with television series based on the epic.

Then there is the much-delayed filmmaker Mani Ratnam's dream project of making a magnanimous opus adaptation of "Mahabharat" with a dream cast of all the Khans - Aamir, Shah Rukh, Salman along with Amitabh Bachchan and Aishwarya Rai.

The biggest revivalists of the mythological genre are the animation filmmakers. Beginning with success of "Hanuman" in 2005, came films like "Bal Ganesh" and "Ghatochkach", all based on popular characters from Indian mythology.

Besides, there are already a slew of animated films based on "Mahabharat" and "Ramayan" and more are planned with the likes of producer Firoz Nadiawala ready to pump in any amount of money.

Mumbai-based Maya Entertainment Limited (MEL) is also making "Ramayana - The Epic" with Manoj Bajpai doing the voiceover for Ram and Juhi Chawla, Ashutosh Rana and Mukesh Rishi in other key roles.

Commentator Vishak Shakti observes that the Epic Fantasy is also a status symbol in the ego tussle of civilisations.

"Every self-respecting film fraternity has to have its own epic fantasy franchise like the Japanese have Princess Mononoke and are dedicated to keeping samurai swordplay and mythical forest spirits alive, the Mexicans have fantasy freak Guillermo Del Toro, the Chinese have crouching tigers, flying daggers and filmmakers like Ang Lee and Zhang Yimou and even the Americans are making high fantasy films from newly-created-ancient-mythology," says Shakti.

Here is hoping for some divine intervention for the ultimate screen adaptation of the very apt great Indian epics.

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