They are impressive fish in their pond, but they now want to conquer the world. So much so, many of Bollywood's stars are now displaying keen interest in starring in international cinema. "At this rate," jokes Hansal Mehta (director, Dil Pe Mat Le Yaar, Chhal), "directors in Mumbai will have no stars to shoot with."
Vivek Oberoi and Aishwarya Rai have already agreed to do two non-Indian projects for filmmakers Roland Joffe (The Killing Fields, City of Joy) and Gurinder Chaddha (Bhaji On The Beach, Bend It Like Beckham). Shilpa Shetty will soon be off to film Mahmud Sipra's film in Dubai. Salman Khan has been signed for Willard Carroll's Marigold (though it is no longer clear when Khan will actually get down to doing this film).
Amitabh Bachchan and Sanjay Dutt are all set to go international as well. But the first Bollywood star of the post-Shabana Azmi generation to have done so is Sushmita Sen. She is all set to reprise Tabu's role in It Rained That Night, the English language version of Mahesh Manjrekar's Astitva and has begun shooting for the film in Los Angeles.
It is a Friday night and it is freezing in LA. But Sushmita and the rest of the unit, including Victor Banerjee and Moon Moon Sen's daughter Riya (chosen since the film will have a Bengali avatar as well), are feeling warm. "The shooting is going extraordinarily well," says Manjrekar. "We have just completed parts of the song, Kitne kisse hain bas tere mere, from Astitva. I plan to get it re-recorded in English and Bengali by either Sunidhi Chauhan or Hema Sardesai. But I must tell you the way Sushmita is doing the key emotional scenes ooh!"
Manjrekar has never sounded so charged about a project in a long time. The entire unit, excluding cinematographer Vijay Arora, has been changed for the remake. The role of Tabu's husband, essayed by Sachin Khedekar, one of Manjrekar's favourite actors, in Astitva, is being played by the director himself, thanks to his newly-discovered international stardom since Kaante.
Manjrekar hopes to break into the international arena with It Rained That Night. "But I am not very sure about the title," he chuckles. "I contemplated using The Bitch In The House, which I read somewhere. But everyone advised me against it. I wonder why."
The next Bollywood unit to make a lunge for the international market would be the cast of Gurinder Chaddha's Bride & Prejudice -- particularly Namrata Shirodkar, Aishwarya Rai and, probably, Vivek Oberoi (who is trying to work out his dates), along with composer Anu Maliik.
Not all artistes are enthusiastic about going international. Kareena Kapoor, for one, crinkles her nose at it. "I've had several offers, including Marigold and Bride & Prejudice. I said no to both because I didn't much care for the roles. Why would I want to give up my career here and run after international success when I am playing author-backed roles in Mumbai?" she reasons on the sets of the Dharmesh Darshan-Boney Kapoor production, Bewafaa.
Hrithik Roshan, who refused the chance to play Hamlet in a Hollywood production last year, seconds Kareena's sentiments. "At this point in my career, I would rather focus on my assignments in India than run after international projects. Give me a Sanjay Leela Bhansali project and I would exchange it any day with the best in the West," he chuckles.
Southern superstar Madhavan too declined Oscar-winning German director Florian Gallenberger's English-Bengali film. "When I go international, it will have to be something worth my while," he says.
But negotiations are on for two prestigious international projects, with author-backed roles for Hrithik and Kareena in each.
For years, Bollywood's two greatest stars, Dilip Kumar and Amitabh Bachchan, refused international projects since they didn't want their careers in Mumbai to suffer. Big B recently declined the chance to play Aishwarya and Namrata's father in Bride And Prejudice.
But with Ram Gopal Verma's Ek, he is all set to conquer the West. The second exodus has begun.