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Love, all over again

What is it like to play Shahjahan in "Taj Mahal: An Eternal Love Story"? Ask Kabir Bedi and Zulfi Syed

"A journey of discovery": Kabir Bedi

KABIR BEDI was the first person Akbar Khan approached when he launched his ambitious multi-crore historical, Taj Mahal: An Eternal Love Story. He was, probably, the right choice. The only other senior actor who comes to mind for the role is Amitabh Bachchan. But then if Akbar had signed Amitabh to essay the difficult role of the ageing Moghul emperor, he wouldn't have had to go far and wide to look for an actor who could have played prince Khurram. Abhishek Bachchan could have easily fitted into the role. But it seems destiny had other designs. His wife Mariam chanced upon a mug shot of model Zulfi Syed on the Internet, and decided he was the guy her husband had been hunting for from among the 200 hopefuls he had been auditioning.

The resemblance between Zulfi Syed and Kabir Bedi is unbelievable. The height, the build, the forehead, the nose, the voice and the gait. So similar, yet so distinguishing. And one is certain it must have given costume designer Anna Singh a great sense of relief. She didn't really have to make separate wardrobes overflowing with dresses. Simple mending would have done the trick. Let's see what the two have to say about their choices, role, and the manner in which they approached the character.

Zulfi speak

"A lot of my friends had gone and done the auditioning for the role of Khurram. I knew about it but was reluctant until one fine morning I got a call from Akbar Khan's office. To my surprise, I was explained the character, and offered the role almost straightaway. That much seems simple, but eventually, a lot of effort had to be put in once the shooting went under way. I tried to interpret the character my way, but it was Akbar saab's conception and interpretation that, I guess, helped a great deal. A lot of work had to be done on the language. It was Urdu, and even though it's my mother-tongue, I did not understand many words. "I am from Bangalore. I did my college from there, and people used to say whenever they would see Kabir Bedi on the big screen that when I grew up I would look like him. I used to laugh and keep quiet. And today, I am playing a sort of young Kabir Bedi. My friends are surprised. I wasn't really apprehensive. He has played his role and I have played mine and I am confident about my job. "Akbar saab has gone about making the movie with a great deal of patience, passion and dedication. He would always explain the background to the scene, and what kind of mood and emotion he expects. And that really helped. My love interest in the film, Sonya, was a great help. I don't think those intimate scenes would have come in as naturally had she not been equally involved in the role and the project. Those scenes were not easy to perform. And mind you, unlike me, she has faced the camera for the first time." But perhaps Zulfi had it easy. It wasn't all that easy for Kabir Bedi who had to show at least three stages in his growth. And no one could have explained it better than costume designer Anna Singh who slogged for months together to produce those heavy costumes, 60 to be precise, that Kabir Bedi had to sport. Over to Kabir Bedi, on how he interpreted and performed the difficult role.

Says Kabir Bedi

"I leapt at the opportunity when Akbar offered me the role. It was the kind of role I had hoped I would play one day. It excited me because it was a challenge. It was a challenge not just in terms of falling back on all that I had learnt in theatre and in international cinema but also because it gave me an opportunity to get deep into Urdu. Essaying the role of an aging Shahjahan has been a journey of discovery, of my own capabilities as well as one of the most important figures in Indian history. It demonstrates to me, and I hope to the audiences as well, that there are other dimensions to me as an actor that have remained unfulfilled in the Hindi film industry. Given the right role and the right forum, there can be a lot more than what they have imagined me to be.

"Having said that, I must say it wasn't all that easy as well. Initially, when we started there was some friction between Akbar and me because there were differences of style and interpretation of the character. Akbar had done his homework more than me. He was always clear about what he wanted and was flexible about how he got there, and given the fact that essentially we all want the same thing, which is a good film at the end of it, whatever teething troubles we had were ironed out quickly.

"It was a great experience": Zulfi Syed

"Initially, I had to try and enter the mind and spirit of the man who first rebelled against his own father, and eventually had to face the rebellion of his own son. What is interesting about the structure and the way Akbar has evolved the screenplay, is that it begins with him in his final crisis, where his own son is revolting against him, and the whole love story is a series of flashbacks. So you are able to see a man who has seen it all, had it all, suddenly being deprived of all. How this tests the man's character and the agony he goes through in the process are gripping. I think it is one of the greatest love stories of the world, and I salute Akbar's extraordinary courage in mounting a film of this scale."

It will be interesting to see two different actors essaying a single role, the raw and the accomplished in a film that threatens to make its own mark in cinematic excellence, notwithstanding the box office rewards.


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