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Filmmakers going back in time
By Subhash K Jha, IANS
Filmmakers are showing a penchant for returning to the past, with several noted directors currently working on period films.
This is despite the fact that after Anil Sharma's "Gadar", Ashutosh Gowariker's "Lagaan" and Sanjay Leela Bhansali's "Devdas", no period film has done well.
Rituparno Ghosh's "Antar Mahal"(in Bengali) takes his characters - Abhishek Bachchan, Soha Ali Khan, Jackie Shroff and Roopa Ganguly to the turn of the last century.
Master craftsman himself Subhash Ghai goes back to the British period in "Kissna", though, says Vivek Oberoi, "it isn't really a film about the British Raj".
That isn't all. Yash Chopra's much-anticipated directorial return is an epic romance where Shah Rukh Khan, Preity Zinta and Rani Mukherjee are taken back to the 1980s for a passionate love story that cuts across the India-Pakistan barrier.
Then there is Ketan Mehta's "The Rising". A true-blue British Raj film, it's set in 1857 and chronicles the life of the freedom fighter Mangal Pandey. This would be Aamir Khan's third foray into the British Raj after Deepa Mehta's "1947-Earth" and Gowariker's "Lagaan".
Deepa Mehta has just wrapped up work on her lyrical period drama "Water" that is set in a holy town of India in the opening years of the 20th century. While Lisa Ray is cast as a widow, John Abraham is her reformist suitor.
And Akbar Khan is ready with his version of the legendary Shah Jahan-Mumtaz love story called "Taj Mahal". The film was earlier made in the 1960s with Pradeep Kumar and Bina Rai and had proven a major hit.
Will the same ornate ambience and nostalgic mood work in the new millennium, when handsomely mounted period epics like Santosh Sivan's "Asoka" (Shah Rukh Khan's only failure in recent years) have collapsed in a heap?
Karan Johar who was all set to return to the remote past for a historical romance with Shah Rukh Khan has decided to scale down his ambitions to a more manageably contemporary level.
And Sanjay Leela Bhansali looks with trepidation and anxiety at his Rs 600 million period-historical "Bajirao Mastani" with Salman Khan and Kareena Kapoor in the title roles.
Considering the low performance-level of period dramas what attracts directors to this genre?
"It's the challenge of recreating a whole era in scrupulous terms," says Rituparno Ghosh who did an early 19th-century drama "Chokher Bali" last year. "The process of bringing alive a period gone by is akin to giving birth to a baby. Quite irresistible."
Ironically period films, whether it was "Chitralekha" in the 1960s or "Mehbooba" in the 1970s, have hardly ever worked.