By Subhash K. Jha
Mumbai, Jan 4 (IANS) Director Imtiaz Ali locked horns with Saif Ali Khan over the casting of the leading lady for their next film and it was the former who won. The director of "Jab We Met" fame has cast Deepika Padukone instead of Kareena Kapoor with the actor.
It's not official yet. But Saif's first production will start shooting in May 2008. It won't star Saif's ladylove Kareena. The matter in fact became a big bone of contention between producer Saif and director Imtiaz.
When contacted, Imtiaz, known to speak his mind -- he has confessed he signed Kareena for "Jab We Met" without liking her work in any of her earlier films -- is as usual forthright.
"It's very simple. Deepika suits the role. Kareena, who is my absolute favourite, does not. Fortunately or unfortunately my fondness for an actor is not the criterion for casting," Imtiaz told IANS.
"I cannot cast Kareena wrongly, not after casting her so perfectly as Geet in 'Jab We Met'. I respect her talent too much for that. No one knows her worth better than me. I'm sure I'll write a role for her in my next film and happily queue up outside her door for her dates," he added.
Said a source close to Saif: "If Saif had his way he'd want Kareena in every production starting with his first. In fact, he was quite sure that his production house would take off with a film starring Kareena along with Saif.
"And since Imtiaz had just delivered a big hit with Kareena, Saif saw no problems on that front. Little did he know that Imtiaz had other plans. The director was sure that Kareena wouldn't suit the female lead this time. He insisted it had to be Deepika."
Saif and Imtiaz had several heated and prolonged arguments over the matter. But the latter was adamant.
"Saif had no choice but to give in, although Kareena, who thought she was a natural choice for Imtiaz after 'Jab We Met', was very hurt about being kept out of a project that's rightfully hers," said the source.
Kareena, who is known to fight fiercely for her rights, was obviously upset about the exclusion from her boyfriend's first production.
"But she has mellowed considerably. All her insecurities seem to have vanished. Proof of this lies in what transpired when Kareena was in Bangkok to spend time with Saif before Christmas. Not once did she visit Saif's location in Bangkok while he was shooting with Rani Mukerji for Kunal Kohli," said a source who knows Kareena well.