by AFP/Shail Kumar Singh, Feb 10, 2004 | Destinations: India / Mumbai

Bombay, Feb 6, 2004 - India's film industry is about to release its second foray into the world of sci-fi thrillers, which this time goes back thousands of years to delve into the realms of Hindu mythology. The Hindi-language industry, known for its formulaic films, has been mapping fresh territory in a bid to reverse a string of flops which has plunged the multi-million dollar industry into loss-making mode for the past three years. Last year it successfully rolled out its first-ever sci-fi movie, "Koi Mil Gaya" (Someone Found), which critics said was a mix of "ET" and "Forrest Gump" but which proved an instant hit with Indian audiences.

With the trend having been set, producer Nitin Manmohan has come back for sci-fi seconds, using the Hindu epic Ramayana as a vehicle. "We wanted to do something new as we cannot always go on and on with love stories and family dramas," said Manmohan. His thriller, "Rudraksh" starring two of Bollywood's best known action heroes -- Sanjay Dutt and Suniel Shetty -- is due for release February 13.

In "Rudraksh", Dutt plays the role of Hindu god Ram while Shetty enacts the character of the demon god Ravana. Hindu mythology has it that Ravana, king of Lanka, kidnapped prince Ram's wife Sita while the couple were living in the jungles. Ram later attacked the kingdom of Lanka and rescued Sita after killing Ravana. Ravana was given a holy bead by the god Shiva which gave immense mystic powers to the demon king.

"Rudraksh" (Holy Bead) retells the tale in a modern way, using special effects to create a mystic appeal. In the movie, a Sri Lankan labourer (Shetty) happens to get hold of the bead and gains supernatural powers.

"You can say I am playing the role of a modern Ravana who gets his hand on this Rudraksh," said Shetty. "It is so powerful that he can misuse it to achieve his ambitions, thus causing harm to mankind." Shetty said the three-and-half hour film contains 75 minutes of special effects, all done in India, to create extra appeal for the movie which he expects will have wide appeal.

"Ramayana is part or our lives. Every Hindu household knows what it is all about. We all have grown up reading Ramayana. So, I think the Indians can easily relate to Rudraksh," he said.

Shetty is also convinced his role will go down well with the Indian public, even though they are more used to seeing him playing an action hero. "It is a very interesting character. If I dont dance around trees with the heroine it does not mean that I am playing a negative role," he said.

The Hindu epic Ramayana has been a motivation for numerous films and television serials over the decades, with producer Ramanand Sagar's serial "Ramayana" being the most successful attempt in the 90s. Setty and Dutt are also supported by stars such as Bollywood sex symbol Bipasha Basu, who plays a scientist based in the United States. "Before starting work on the project, I read Ramayana at least 100 times. A lot of hard work has gone on this film," said Dutt.

"Rudraksh" is set for Indiawide release on February 13, 2004.

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