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Waiting for Mr. Bachchan

ZIYA US SALAM

Amitabh Bachchan's illness has caused a flutter. Bollywood cannot wait for the Shahenshah to reclaim his throne.


As long as Bachchan is alive only he will play Gabbar Singh the role in `Sholay.' RAMGOPAL VARMA



BOLLYWOOD'S SHAHENSHAH: The charismatic Amitabh Bachchan

The nation has got an update on Amitabh Bachchan's health faster than the activity of bulls and bears at the stock exchange. Every time Amitabh Bachchan sneezes, the industry goes up in a collective prayer. Can't blame the dream merchants though. After all, according to some estimates, some 55 billion rupees are riding on his 63-year-old shoulders. Filmmakers like Vidhu Vinod Chopra, Ramgopal Varma, Karan Johar, Ravi Chopra and Madhur Bhandarkar stand to lose or gain one way or the other depending on the swiftness of Bachchan's recovery. Each one of them has a film lined up with the Big B. The stakes are high, the money is big. And so is the star.

Incidentally, there are four films starring Bachchan in advanced stages of production - there is Karan Johar's "Kabhi Alvida Na Kehna" which is a Rs.35 crore extravaganza with Bachchan in a pivotal role. Then there is Ravi Chopra's "Babul" that is almost complete. Not to forget Vidhu Vinod Chopra's "Eklavya", where again Bachchan plays the title role. Of course, there is Rumi Jaffery's "God Tussi Great Ho" where he again plays an interesting role with Salman Khan and Priyanka Chopra. And then there are seven other films at varying stages of scripting, scheduling and shooting, including a Bhojpuri film "Gangaa" where Bachchan makes his first appearance. Not to ignore "Happy New Year" by Farah Khan, "Ada" by Tanvir Ahmed and "Baiju aur Tansen" by Krishna Shah.

That Bachchan's charisma refuses to fade is borne out yet again by the heightened interest shown in trade circles in Apoorva Lakhia's "Ek Ajnabee." Sanjay Mehta, a veteran film distributor, disputes the contention that there are going to be major losses if Bachchan does not return to shooting by the end of the year. "It is no issue at all. Two of his films are complete and stand to lose nothing. There is Lakhia's `Ek Ajnabee' and Rajkumar Santoshi's `Family' which is an ABCL production. They are ready for release. However, there are four films that can be affected by his prolonged illness. If shooting schedules have to be reworked, the producers will have to adjust the Rs.10 crores or so as interest."

Incidentally, besides "Ek Ajnabee" one other film might gain due to the concern surrounding Bachchan's health. It is S. Ramanathan's long-delayed "Zamanat" where he pairs up with Vijayashanti. "The film is complete but was stuck due to some financial constraints. However, it might just be released at this time to cash in on the circumstances."

A film whose shooting has been delayed due to Bachchan's illness is "Babul". Says Raj Chopra, "We were scheduled to start shooting from December 10. and Amitabh Bachchan was supposed to be involved in it from December 18. His second schedule was due in February. Now, he will wrap up the work in March and we are confident that we will be able to meet our release date of May 5."

Amitabh Bachchan, it is learnt, is likely to resume work on January 15. Adds Chopra, "He is only required for the shooting of three songs. The doctors have asked him to avoid action. In our film, there is not even a slap, so it is fine. Meanwhile, we are going ahead with the December schedule with Hema Malini, Salman Khan, Rani Mukerji, John Abraham and Om Puri. Bachchan will give us 20-25 days in March. That should be sufficient for us."

The case with Ramgopal Varma is similar. The spokesperson for Factory speaking on behalf of Ramgopal Varma, who is doing a remake of "Sholay" where Amitabh Bachchan is supposed to play a modern-day Gabbar, says "We have Bachchan's dates in March and April. Once he recovers, he might have to arrange his dates anew. We have dates for October and November too and we are unlikely to suffer because of any change in shooting dates as we are still in pre-production stage for both `Ek' where Bachchan teams up with Ajay Devgan and Sanjay Dutt, and `Sholay'.

``We are not pressing him for dates nor are we changing the script at all. As long as Bachchan is alive only he will play the role."

Meanwhile, Vinod Chopra's "Eklavya" goes on. "He has finished all the shooting. And the film is in sync sound so we won't need dubbing," says a spokesman.

Showing similar loyalty is Keshu, who worked with Bachchan in "Khakee" last year and is now ready with "Family" for which Bachchan had completed a major share of dubbing before the illness. "We can use sync sound," he reveals. Rumi Jaffery promises to wait too.

Meanwhile, Bachchan who earlier this year gave us the hugely successful "Sarkar" with RGV, has wrapped up his shooting for another RGV film, "Darna Zaroori Hai" with Riteish Deshmukh. And there are reports of his having signed "Sarkar-2" too.

There are unlikely to be any constraints for Madhur Bhandarkar's film either. He had just announced a film with Bachchan and Jayaprada, but that will have to wait a while before it goes on the floors.

However, Samir Nair, COO, Star India, where "Kaun Banega Crorepati" has helped in pushing up the TRPs, says "I don't want to talk about the losses faced by Star Plus due to his sudden illness, because I feel it is not fair to talk about it at this time."

The show has, however, been made a twice-a-week affair instead of three times to give more breathing space for shooting schedules.

Thus the Bachchan saga goes on. Half a dozen films ready to be released for the new six months. Another dozen or so at varying stages of production. And a television show.

The industry waits with bated breath for the Shahenshah to take his throne back.

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