Director Shekhar Kapur thinks big, his cinema is either some kind of grandiose affair or made of the kind that punches you hard. His 1994 Bandit Queen on the life of one of India's most notorious dacoits, Phoolan Devi, drew eyeballs – not only for its bold content, but also for a nude shot of actress Seema Biswas, who played the outlaw. His later films, including one on Queen Elizabeth, were also hugely popular as was the Anil Kapoor-starrer, Mr India, and Masoom with Shabana Azmi and Naseeruddin Shah.
Kapur is now all set to helm a biopic on the legendary martial arts exponent, Bruce Lee, and will title it Little Dragon. He told the media in Singapore recently, “We are still getting the script of 'Little Dragon' ready. We have done all the prep. We took a hiatus to reconsider the script a little bit...It is a very important project. As it turns out it is important not only for the rest of the world, but increasingly important for China since they are now saying that Bruce Lee is a Chinese hero."
“I wasn’t expecting the project to get that amount of attention,” said Kapur. “It’s about his early life, from birth till he left Hong Kong. Bruce Lee is one of the most significant philosophers of our time. For me what is fascinating is how did the most-known martial artist of the world become a really accepted philosopher. How he brought this whole idea of not fighting in fighting. Him saying ‘when you fight, you are like two lovers, it is the most intimate thing you can do’.”
Lee has had a fascinating life in which he explored among other aspects the tenets of Indian as well as Chinese philosophy.
What to me appears a little perturbing is that Kapur is yet to find an actor to play the protagonist. And I only hope that like one other supremely significant project of Kapur, Paani, Little Dragon does not run into a storm. Many years ago, he came to the Cannes Film Festival and launched the movie project, and told me that it would be all about water wars, which the world was going to witness. In these wars, Kapur had planned to weave in a love story between two very different kinds of people – a boy from a world that was in the midst of a drought and a girl from a land where water was aplenty.
But somehow, Paani never got off the drawing board. One actor after another walked in and walked out, and this included Hrithik Roshan (who found Ashutosh Gowariker's Mohenjo Daro more lucrative) and Sushant Singh Rajput.
In fact, Cannes has been unlucky for some Indians. Madhur Bhandarkar flew into the French Riviera some years ago with Aishwarya Rai, called the media and announced that she would be his Heroine. A few weeks later, Rai walked out of the film, because she said she was pregnant. Bhandarkar was shattered, but finally found his star in Kareena Kapoor.
Last year at Cannes, the Sangamithra team from Tamil Nadu arrived at Cannes with Jayam Ravi, Arya, Shruti Haasan, A R Rahman and director C Sundar. They also co-sponsored Cannes' opening night party, but Shruti returned to Chennai and said she would not be a part of the movie, because she was not given a “bound script”!
Last year, Nandita Das was also at Cannes with a trailer of her Manto, the radical Pakistani thinker and writer, and she had her lead actor, Nawazuddin Siddiqui with her. The trailer looked quite impressive, and Siddiqui seemed so much like Manto himself. One hopes Das will be able to get her work to screen at Cannes this May. Hopefully, her launch will not be jinxed like that of the others who had trooped into Cannes to find disappointment awaiting them back home.
(Gautaman Bhaskaran is an author, commentator and movie critic)