UTV in 'Express' lane with Bhardwaj

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NEW DELHI -- Mumbai-based film production company UTV Motion Pictures will produce Indian writer-director Vishal Bhardwaj's next film, with the working title "Rangoon Express."

The film is co-written by Bhardwaj and writer-director Matthew Robbins ("Batteries Not Included"). In an interview Thursday, Bhardwaj said: "The film is set in 1943 Burma during the Second World War when Indian soldiers were fighting for the British against Japan. It's a musical love story revolving around an English stuntwoman acting in Indian films of that time."

Shooting is expected to begin around November and the film is set to be ready for release by April 2008. The film will be in English interspersed with Bollywood-style Hindi songs of that era.

UTV CEO Ronnie Screwvala said the film's budget "would be in the region of $10 million-$11 million. We have the financing in place, and depending on what kind of international tie-ups we do for marketing, we could consider offering a share to potential partners.

"UTV has existing relationships with banners such as Fox Searchlight (with whom UTV co-produced Mira Nair's "The Namesake") and Will Smith's Overbrook Entertainment, among others. UTV recently announced it was co-financing M. Night Shyamalan's upcoming film "The Happening" with 20th Century Fox. It also produced Bhardwaj's upcoming children's film "The Blue Umbrella," slated for a July release.

As for casting, Bhardwaj says the script is out to potential talent "including some well-known actresses in Hollywood but its still early to give names at this stage." He added that the principal male leads will be "leading Indian actors which makes this a great project blending East and West."

In an interview Matthew Robbins said his collaboration with Bhardwaj resulted after they met at a film workshop organized by Nair in 2005 in Kampala, Uganda.

Robbins said the film was conceived when Bhardwaj "expressed interest in a war film but reminded me that his background is in film music. This prompted me to combine both elements (combat and music). ... Anyone who knows Vishal's films will understand that he doesn't stop the action for traditional musical breaks. ... In this fashion, international audiences will not be seeing an Indian film as it is usually known abroad."

A well-known music composer, Bhardwaj made his mark as a feature director with 2003's "Maqbool," an adaptation of Shakespeare's "Macbeth" set in Mumbai's gangland followed by 2006's hit "Omkara," which set "Othello" in the ganglands of central India.
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