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By: Subhash K. Jha, IndiaFM
Wednesday, December 13, 2006
Grant it to Vipul Shah for imaginative casting. In his almost-complete film Namastey London, Upen Patel has been cast as a Pakistani dude craving to marry a British girl.
Vipul sighs loudly. "I've finished the entire film, except one song. This was my toughest film to make. Both my earlier films Aankhen and Waqt were based on stage plays and I knew them in and out. Plus they were shot on studio sets. Namastey London was shot all over London. And the entire crew including spot boys was British. A first of its kind. And then the moment I landed back in Mumbai we took off to shoot in Punjab, and ended up in Ajmer Sharif. Now I'm almost done...but exhausted."
Namastey London is a story about the Indian Diaspora. "It's actually an idea that Akshay Kumar gave me. Earlier I was planning an espionage thriller with Amitji and Akshay. But Amitji was indisposed. The minute Akshay gave me this other idea, I grabbed it. I went to London for research, spent time in the Indian community there. I realized the generation gap among the Asian community is a looming issue. The older generation wants its daughters to marry Indians. But the kids want to marry Britishers. That's precisely what Katrina and Upen want. They're the lost NRI generation."
Vipul also gives the Pakistanis in Britain a place in Namastey London. "Upen Patel plays a Pakistani wannabe. And I got the Pakistani actor Jawed Sheikh (who played Shahid Kapoor's father in Shikhar) to play Upen's dad who's also a cabbie."
Vipul is very excited about working with Rishi Kapoor. "He's fantastic. This film will re-invent him as an actor. He enthused everyone in London. When Amitji couldn't do my other script I signed Rishi. I personally feel directors close to Amitji are exploiting his presence in their films. If I had gone to him and said I can't do my film without you, I know he'd have agreed. He's a lion-heart and filmmakers need to respect that. I want him to do my film only because he's excited by the role. Seeing some of his recent films, I feel he doesn't know why he should be doing them. Maybe I'm speaking out of turn. But too often we see him doing films that he shouldn't. And I do tell him so."
Striking down the belief that Namastey London is a remake of Manoj Kumar's 1971 hit Purab Aur Paschim, Vipul says, "Except for the fact that both films are about the Indian Diaspora in Britain there's nothing in common. In fact people have also said there're elements of Mani Ratnam's Moun Ragam and Sanjay Bhansali's Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam. The similarity to Sanjay's film is perhaps there. In Hum Dil... Ajay personally escorts his wife to her lover. In my film Akshay Kumar tells his wife (Katrina) she's free to go. But he'll try to win her over... This is what happened to a guy in London. Someone narrated this incident to Akshay and he told me about it."
Curiously, Vipul says Namastey London is a fluffy popcorn entertainer. "It doesn't have serious undercurrents like Rang De Basanti, Lage Raho Munnabhai or Dor I just want my audience to have a good time. Yes, there're serious moments. But the narration quickly moves forward."
What about the controversy regarding the length of Katrina's skirt in Ajmer Sharif? "This is so ridiculous. I don't even know what hit us. There we were at the holy shrine. The Anjuman Community came to meet us. My D.O.P was in shorts. He was ordered to cover himself. We bought a lungi for him. They approved of the length of Katrina's skirt and asked her to cover her head in a dupatta. They guided us in, instructed us how to perform the prayers, and were with us for two hours. The next morning this absurd controversy was raised in a local paper. Thankfully none of the mainstream papers or TV channels took it seriously... until it seemed like spicy news. It was nothing but a feeble attempt to create a controversy. If we were doing anything wrong in the shrine, wouldn't they have immediately broken our camera?"
Vipul will show the sequence to the Dargah committee. "They're the final authority on what goes in."
Vipul is all praise for Katrina's British accent. "In fact that was one of the reasons I signed her. I believe all her other directors have dubbed her voice. But I want her to dub with that accent. It's authentic for the part she's playing. Katrina will be a surprise. Why do we react with such immediate disdain to model turned actors? Isn't Sushmita Sen one of the best? Both Katrina and Upen will surprise you. Grant them their growth. Look at Akshay Kumar's growth."