At least two major films lined up for release in 2005 take us back to colonial India for a peep into life during British rule.
While Subhash Ghai's "Kisna", scheduled for a January release is entirely fictional, Ketan Mehta's "The Rising" (now re-christened "Mangal Pandey", and bearing no resemblance to the cheesy Shatrughan Sinha starrer of the same name in the 1980s) is due in June-July 2005.
Audiences got a glimpse of both the films this Diwali when their trailers were shown. "Mangal Pandey" was glimpsed along with Yash Chopra's "Veer-Zara" as the Chopras are the film's distributors.
Subhash Ghai who produced the Diwali release "Aitraaz" inserted a trailer of "Kisna" in the film.
Audiences are curious about both the films, specially since both the film's leading men, Vivek Oberoi in "Kisna" and Aamir Khan in "Mangal Pandey", sport similarly wild and spiritual looks, long hair and all.
The look is in fact in direct contrast to the 'dude' image that today's average hero wears. Would audiences be willing to accept Aamir and Vivek as history's mysteries?
It's been proven through experience that Indian audiences don't take kindly to historically grounded films. Last year's brilliant pre-partition saga "Pinjar" collapsed before the first weekend.
Aamir gave one of his best performances in Deepa Mehta's tale "1947-Earth" about savagery during India's partition into two countries. The film bombed.
Will he wean audiences into British rule with "Mangal Pandey" as successfully as he did in "Lagaan" two years ago?
"Mangal Pandey" must work for Aamir. He has reportedly received the highest fee ever for an Indian actor.
Vivek has received a much smaller fee for "Kisna". But his stakes are just as high. Despite commendable performances in "Masti" and "Yuva" in 2003, his career has been largely doom-driven. "Kisna" is perhaps his last bid to regain the glory he earned with his debut in Ram Gopal Varma's "Company" and he has supposedly given a brilliant performance.
Besides historicity, the other common thread between "Kisna" and "Mangal Pandey" is the presence of British actors.
"Kisna" introduces the stunning Antonio Bernath as Vivek Oberoi's love interest. She has no acting experience and was selected out of 300 British girls whom Ghai auditioned. Now after "Kisna", she has signed a big Hollywood film.
"Mangal Pandey" also features British actors, including the James Bond villain Toby Stephens.
The British presence seems to be strengthening in Bollywood. And never mind if it's happening through films that deride their colonial aspirations.
Recently Emma Bunton, the spicy member of Spice Girls, took part in the shooting of Hriday Shetty's underproduction Rishi Kapoor-Dimple Kapadia-Sammir Dattani romance.
Emma was treated like royalty. Sammir, who has the privilege of being the only Bollywood actor to have danced on screen with the Spice Girl, thinks showgirls from Britain are now welcome in Bollywood.
"Emma seemed to blend into the song-and-dance sequence. All of us pampered her. She seemed so friendly, told me to visit her when I'm in England. I am sure other British performers too would want to participate in the so-called Bollywood dream," he says.
"And why not? The world is no longer an oyster, but a global village. Everyone is welcome in our cinema."