Gowariker to enlighten 'Buddha'

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CANNES -- A mega-budget adaptation of one of the most famous novels about Buddhism is set to mark the long-awaited filmmaking debut of Indian billionaire Dr. B.K. Modi.

Modi's Spice Enfotainment has hired Ashutosh Gowariker, whose "Lagaan" was an Oscar nominee in 2002, to direct "Buddha," an English-language tale of Prince Siddhartha Gautama's search for enlightenment.

Adapted by Oscar-winning screenwriter David S. Ward ("The Sting," "Sleepless in Seattle") from Vietnamese monk Thich Nhat Hanh's "Old Path White Clouds," the film is scheduled to begin pre-production by January and commence principal photography in summer 2010.

"Buddha" is being made through U.S.-based special purpose vehicle Buddha Films and counts Hollywood veterans Michel Shane, Anthony Romano and Spice president Bhuvan Lall as executive producers.

"This is an international film and consensus is that we must find an international actor of the right stature to be the face of Buddha," Lall said. "The search is on."

The production budget is set at $35 million-$60 million and will be fully financed by Dr. Modi. ICM's Jeff Berg and Hal Sadoff have been retained to package the movie and present it in the U.S. Spice will likely handle sales in international territories and is in early discussions with distributors. Modi and Spice also will fund development of games and other ancillary products.

"Buddha" was first announced by Modi at Cannes in 2006, when it was pegged as having an overall budget of $100 million.

Since then, Modi has reshuffled his telecoms empire and made an abortive $320 million attempt to buy a controlling stake in Sony Entertainment Television India.

The company also is to produce Anil Kapoor starrer "No Problem," directed by Anees Bazmee. It will the first film to flow from Spice's Singapore relationship.

In cooperation with Singapore's Media Development Authority, Spice also is readying a Singapore-based film fund. The cash pool will concentrate on Asian hero movies made as co-productions. To date, the investments in the fund have come entirely from Modi, though Spice foresees contributions from the MDA and private investors that will eventually expand it to $500 million.
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