Bollywood bad boy turns Hindu god in new blockbuster

by AFP/Anamika Singh, Feb 26, 2003 | Destinations: India / Mumbai

BOMBAY, Feb 25, 2003 - Salman Khan, Bollywood's bad boy who has been in the news for bashing up girlfriends and a fatal hit-and-run controversy, has turned over a new leaf by becoming god -- if only on the big screen.

Khan, a Muslim, will play lord Ram, the Hindu god, in "Ramayana", a film announced by GS Entertainment, the actor's home production, along with producer friend Bunty Walia. Khan made headlines in September after he was alleged to have drunkenly drove his imported vehicle over five sleeping pedestrians in Bombay, killing one and injuring four. He is currently out on bail.

The actor, along with his producer friend Walia, is planning the mega movie on lord Ram with a budget of over 1.0 billion rupees (20.96 million dollars) -- the Indian film world' costliest venture yet. The current record for cost is held by "Devdas", last year's hit made with a budget of 500 million rupees. Khan's brother Sohail Khan will be his on-screen sibling as well, taking the role of Laxman -- Ram's younger brother.

The epic revolves around the story of prince Ram and his wife Sita who are made to spend 14 years in the jungles by Ram's step-mother in order to make way for her son to be crowned as the King of Ayodhya, a princely province in the state of Uttar Pradesh. "Ramayana will be targetted at both the Indian and the international market and to arouse the interest of the more lucrative western market, lord Ram's wife, Sita -- the epitome of the ideal Indian wife-- will be portrayed by a Hollywood actress," Walia said.

The producer is hoping to bag a top Hollywood actress but the name is yet to be finalised. He may employ two separate directors -- for the Hindi and English versions. "Ramayana will be shot in Lord Ram's birthplace, Ayodhya, and possibly in New Zealand," Walia told AFP.

The hardline Vishwa Hindu Parishad (World Hindu Council) has largely supported Bollywood brat Khan portraying Ram. "It would be good if Salman becomes Ram, if only on screen," said Ramesh Mehta, the president of the Mumbai chapter of VHP. "It is a matter of great pride and goodwill that Muslims are reliving the holiest epic on screen."

A television series on Ramayana about a decade ago drummed up tremendous religious fervour, with fans across India tuning in for the show and paying homage to actors who portrayed the on-screen gods. The coming year will see the release of three films on India's two greatest religious epics, the Ramayana and the Mahabharata.

Popular director Raj Kumar Santoshi is already scripting Mahabharata and producer-director Sanjay Khan has long since declared his intention of making "Maryada Purushottam Ram", also on the epic Ramayana, in both English and Hindi. Sanjay Khan's take on the Ramayana is being scripted by writer Farrukh Dhondy and he is confident that his film will find an excellent audience, given his experience in mythologicals and the subject of the film.

Given the vast potential of the subject, all three films are planned on a mega-scale, and plan to stick close to the script. Santoshi says his budget for "Mahabharata" will, like Walia's run to more than one billion rupees.

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