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"It will be a mad film,” says producer, director, scriptwriter and researcher of Bottomline -- A Slap In The Face Of Redemption and managing director of [production company] SBI Impressario Productions, Sorab Irani, who hopes to revolutionise Indian cinema by making the country's first digital film.
"The film is based on the life and times of the notorious international criminal Charles Sobhraj. He is believed to have killed more than 15 tourists in the 1960s and 1970s, but was never successfully convicted of murder. What will make Bottomline unique is that it will be a pioneering effort in digital cinema. No film roll, no film lab. I will use computer chips. I am so tired explaining the concept of digital cinema to people, so I have decided to an Einstein on them and have come up with this formula:
"I have been advocating the merits of digital cinema for over two years now, but the industry has just begun to realise its significance. Digital cinema is the future. There can be no two ways about that," says the director, who with Dr Manmohan Shetty of Adlabs Film Limited, introduced the IMAX format to Indian audiences for a new cinematic experience. IMAX films are shot and projected on 15 perforation/70mm film - the largest film format in existence. It is only possible to project these onto the huge screen because of the remarkable high definition and clarity of these film frames.
Irani worked as the project coordinator for the construction of the IMAX dome in Wadala, a Mumbai suburb. He, now however, believes that IMAX has met a natural death. "It is too expensive and has lost out on novelty. No one wants to repeat seeing films on pyramids and dinosaurs after they have seen it once," he says.
"I have been working on Bottomline for the last five years and had even commissioned Faroukh Dhondy, a personal friend, to write the script for me. Sobhraj's life has been an interesting one. Here was a man who manipulated the system and beat it at its own game. Here was the man who turned [Delhi's] Tihar Jail into his operating den, who had the topmost politicians, including [then Indian Prime Minister] Indira Gandhi, eating out of his hands during the Emergency in 1975.
"Here was a man who repaid his debt to society manifold. He spent 20 years in jail when the going time for life was 14. Why? Because he didn't want to be extradited to Thailand, where he would have been put to death. He stayed put in Tihar waiting for the murder charges listed against him and his arrest warrant in Bangkok to fall under the Thailand statue of limitations and expire.
"Despite all this, my film is not about glorifying this criminal. It's about hope, morality and redemption," the filmmaker says. In his press kit, the director-producer refers to Charles Sobhraj's story as "the story of a snake who bites, slides away, sheds his skin, changes colour and reappears to bite again."
"This is a real person and this is his real story. What provides an emotional thread to the film is the story of Charles' daughter who has refused to accept him as her father. Films must entertain. I don't dispute that. All I want to do is make a film that possesses some intelligence, not one that exalts the shaking of oversized bellies."
There was a professional fall out between Irani and Dhondy, who was originally commissioned to write the script. Says Irani, "It is unfortunate but digital cinema left Farokh behind. He didn't want to take a chance with his script in the new digital cinema. But it had to be done."
Irani who has directed a number of documentary films including Project Tiger (for Delhi Doordarshan), The Last House in Bombay (for Channel Four, BBC) and Lord Ganesh -- The Elephant Head God (for OHM TV, Netherlands) also served for six years as the General Manager of Himalaya Films, a production company of Chetan Anand, Dev Anand and Vijay Anand.
During his tenure, he produced multistarrers like Kudrat, Saheb Bahadur and Hum Rahe Na Hum.
"The industry folk laughed out loud when they heard I had cast Jackie Shroff as the lead in my film, which was in English. But he is the perfect man for the job. Plus I know he wouldn't mess with dates. He has assured me two months of his time from November 2002, out of which we shall spend the first doing rigorous workshops on working with this new medium. Jackie doesn't really know what he has got into. I even told him that he would have to pay me for casting him in my film because Bottomline will take him where he has never gone before. It will propel him to international stardom."
Jackie Shroff who plays the lead in Bottomline says that the role was an opportunity of a lifetime. "I am looking forward to the workshops but I have already begun my homework. Sorab Irani gave me cassettes with Charles' voice to listen to. I also read through all the material that Sorab had researched. Plus I have shaved off my moustache," the actor says.
"I will also meet Charles in London in June and I hope I will be able to understand him better," he adds. "As for international recognition, I already have a following before this film came along. But an international English film is something I am looking forward to. I will do anything from Ravana [in Sanjay Khan's Maryada Purushottam] to an old father [in Subhash Ghai's Yaadein]. And I don't believe in regrets," he claims.
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