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'It's Sari Time in Hollywood,' yelled a headline in The New York Post in 1984, nearly a year after Phoolan Devi had surrendered to the authorities.
Two women known for their glamorous looks were competing with each other to raise money to make English-language movies on the bandit queen that year.
But neither Persis Khambatta nor Susie Coelho Bono managed to start their movie; and it was left to Shekhar Kapur to bring Phoolan Devi to the big screen, more than a decade later.
Khambatta, who had made a terrific debut with Star Trek and played important roles in half-a-dozen Hollywood films, had discussed in detail her plans for the $6 million movie. It was a fairly big budget for a movie in 1984. In comparison, Kapur's film produced by an Indian settled in Britain cost about $1.5 million.
Khambatta, who had never produced a film before, would not disclose who her financiers were, but said she had raised about $3 million from a Pakistani financier and she wanted to shoot the film in Pakistan.
She was worried that shooting the film in India could lead to controversy and trouble. She was aware of some of the trouble Kahani Phoolan Ki, starring Reeta Bhaduri in the title role, had run into when a senior Agra police officer had unsuccessfully tried to ban the film because he felt it glorified Phoolan Devi.
Coelho Bono, former wife of entertainer Sonny Bono (who subsequently became a congressman), had a more modest goal. Her film was going to cost about $2 million, she had said in an interview, and was going to be shot extensively in India. She would not think of shooting it anywhere but the actual terrain Phoolan Devi had made her own for many years, she said.
She had met the bandit queen in her jail cell and had spent several hours assuring her that it would not be an exploitative movie, the star aspirant said.
Coelho Bono, born in England of Goan parents, was one of the hot models in America in the 1980s and had adorned the cover of many mass-circulated magazines. But she said she was not worried her own glamorous looks would hurt the movie in any movie.
Hollywood had enough experts to make her look unglamorous, she said, adding that they could "fix" her nose to look like Phoolan Devi's pug-shaped nose.
The movie projects drew some curiosity in Hollywood, but soon the interest died.
According to Hollywood insiders, the two women lacked the savvy to convince Hollywood companies that they had projects that would appeal to mainstream audiences.
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