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|April 4, 2001||
Before the end of 2002, India will have its first IMAX film: Taj Mahal, starring Aishwarya Rai as Mumtaz Mahal.
The initiative for this project goes to the husband-wife duo of Bharat Bala and Kanika Myer Bharat who, in the past, have created the hugely popular and patriotic Vande Mataram and Jana Gana Mana audio-video series.
rediff.com caught up with Kanika in-between meetings in her South Bombay office, while Bharat spoke to us en route to "some place outside Madras."
Kanika explains that the IMAX is a screen that is ten times larger than the conventional screen, with 20,000 watts of sound enveloping you, taking you inside the picture in front of you. The seating too is very special, to give users a one-on-one experience with the film.
The duo saw their first IMAX film in South Africa, where they had gone to interview Nelson Mandela for a series on Nobel laureates. "Bharat and I immediately realised that this is the future," reveals Kanika.
"Vande Mataram and Jana Gana Mana were mega projects, logistically as well as in scope. We had got used to what we could achieve through such large-canvas projects. So I guess IMAX was the next step."
"We were keen to do something beyond patriotism, India Pride as the term is called. We wanted to move away from that concept -- even though our film is about the Taj Mahal. It is an everlasting story of the one momument that the world associates India with. It is the mecca of love. Not everyone knows its real story. There is no finer global platform than IMAX, where we can present the story in a slick, dramatised format.'
But aren't they in danger of being accused of cashing in on the Taj value?
Kanika disagrees, "I don't think anyone will say that we are cashing in on the Taj value. People visit the Taj Mahal after they get married. Why would anyone visit a tomb? Because it has become a symbol of love. And we have taken on the huge task of telling the world that story."
New age composer Yanni ran into trouble with the local authorities when he conducted his mega concert on the banks of Yamuna. Do they have permission to shoot inside the Taj Mahal?
"If there is anyone who can get permission to shoot inside the Taj Mahal, we can. This is not a grand statement." It only comes from the conviction that the kind of work they have been doing to project India has earned them the goodwill.
And Kanika admits, "Yes we have the permission to shoot inside the Taj. You don't expect us to create another Taj, do you?"
Another first is that the investors of the film are K B Chandrasekhar and B V Jagadeesh, co-founders Internet infrastructure firm Exodus Communications Inc; Gururaj 'Desh' Deshpande, chairman of optical networking firm, Sycamore Networks, and Kanwal Rekhi, former chief technology officer of Novell Inc; and Lata Krishnan who is also on the TiE board.
Bharat Bala adds, "The biggest market for IMAX is in North America. We wanted to make a statement and bring the best of the Indian minds involved in this project. They all loved the concept. Moreover, it is not as if we were trying to make a Bollywood or a Hollywood film."
The film will be shot through the different seasons in India, "We want the people to tour India when they watch the film, see her beauty, the different colours through the seasons.
"Every time we shoot, we will have to fly in 3,000 kgs of equipment -- the cameras come from Los Angeles, the film comes from Rochester. In fact, our entire crew is being flown in, we have Academy Award winner line producer, Scott Swofford. Our cameraman is Reed Smoot.
Aishwarya does the honours as Mumtaz Mahal. Rumours are rife that Amitabh Bachchan is being signed in for a key role. And Kanika doesn't deny it when asked if Shah Jahan might be a Hollywood actor. She says, mysteriously, "Just wait and see."
A R Rahman will compose the music, while Nitin Desai will create his magic on the sets, to Sooni Taraporewala's script.
Another point to be noted is that the IMAX version of the film will be for only an hour. But, admits Bala, "We are working out the script for the 35mm version so that everyone can enjoy the story of Taj Mahal."
The film will be shot in English. It will also have an Hindi version.
Who will they dedicate the film to? Bharat laughs, "To Kanika."
"Hey, but I'm still alive!," protests the woman in question.
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