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B K Modi plans mega Buddha film

May 24, 2006 15:04 IST

Nearly twelve years after Mira Nair abandoned her Buddha movie project because Italian filmmaker Bernardo Bertolucci beat her to it with his Little Buddha starring Keanu Reeves as Siddhartha, there is a serious effort by Indian industrialist Bhupendra Kumar Modi to light up the screens worldwide with a Buddha biopic.

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At $120 million, the project announced at the Cannes film festival and first reported by Hollywood Reporter, would cost $40 million more than the average Hollywood film.

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Modi, who has been actively working on the project for over a year with his Hollywood partners including Michel Shane -- an executive producer on the 2004 Will Smith hit I, Robot -- would not give out many details on the project. But various names ranging from composer A R Rahman, director Shekhar Kapur and New Age guru Deepak Chopra have been mentioned in connection with the film.

Modi, who said he hoped the film would open the year 2008's Cannes film festival -- where Little Buddha received good notices in 1993 -- also added that it would be based on Old Path White Clouds, by the renowned Vietnamese Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh. Modi believes Buddha's life and his examples could ease the burden of living in our war-torn and terrorism-filled times.

Published three years ago Old Path White Clouds became a sleeper hit, gradually selling over a million copies in North America. It also became an international success having been translated into more than 20 languages.

Drawn from original Pali, Sanskrit and Chinese sources, Old Path White Clouds recreates lucidly the life and times of Buddha over the course of eighty years. The highly cinematic book grippingly tells the stories alternately through the eyes of Svasti, the buffalo boy who provided kusa grass for the Buddha's enlightenment cushion, and the Buddha himself. Admirers of the book describe it as a spiritual page-turner.

Praising the book for making the story of Buddha widely accessible to a new generation, Library Journal wrote: 'This is not a scholarly study but rather a heartfelt interpretation that draws on important sources. The result is a beautiful and contemporary book that can offer an attractive introduction for those new to the subject as well as many bright moments for serious students of Buddhism.'

Hanh, 81, whose admirer Dr Martin Luther King Jr had publicly recommended the monk and peace activist for the Nobel Prize, is also a Gandhian. The monk, who lectured briefly at Columbia University on Buddhism, was one of the first religious leaders in America to oppose America's Vietnam War. He travels across America and many other countries several times a year giving talks on Buddhism and peace initiatives.

'I've wanted to do this film for several years now,' Modi told Hollywood Reporter. 'I discovered the book two years ago and it changed my life, and I felt it was up to me to share my happiness with the world.'

The film is going to be a spiritual adventure, said Shane. 'We are looking at this as an epic film for the ages -- a Lawrence of Arabia meets Gladiator,' he declared.

Arthur J Pais in New York