(L to R) Ajay Devgn, Mahie Gill and Abhishek Bachchan
Bollywood is excavating the past to tell its stories. Some stories are going back to the 1980s, like the TV series Dil Bekaraar and the forthcoming 83 by Kabir Khan, when most established filmmakers of today grew up. Some are going back even further like Prithviraj, and in the case of director Neeraj Pandey, Chanakya. It’s not a surprise given the popularity of fiction in this genre with the rise of authors such as Amish Tripathi and Ashwin Sanghi. Making such movies requires a lot of research and it has taken Pandey at least two-and-a-half years of consolidated work on Jain and Buddhist texts as well as accounts by Greek historians to finally get started on shooting in 2022. Pandey begins Chanakya with Alexander’s interrupted invasion of India, with one version suggesting that Chandragupta Maurya was part of his army as a soldier. It then travels to Patna and to Karnataka. “There is so little that is known about the kingmaker except the broad outlines of his insult by the Nandas and his role in the rise of Chandragupta Maurya,” says Pandey, who is fascinated by the author of the Arthashastra. The man he has chosen to play Chanakya? Ajay Devgn.
The Star Look
Why is it so difficult for actors to let go of a certain visual image? Partly it’s because brands pay a lot of money for them to endorse products and need them to look a certain way, unless they, like Aamir Khan, create particular characters onscreen. It is also fear of change. So, it’s good to see Abhishek Bachchan letting go of vanity and changing his hairstyle, putting on extra kilos, and creating a hunch in playing Bob Biswas, the murderous maverick of Kahaani (2012). Sujoy Ghosh, who wrote the character, says he wanted Bachchan to play Biswas in Kahaani itself but the actor was busy with Happy New Year (2014). When he finally wrote Bob Biswas’ world for a separate movie to be directed by his daughter Diya Annapurna Ghosh, he couldn’t imagine anyone else. Ghosh’s ability to cast surprising actors has extended from Jugal Hansraj as the creepy uncle in Kahaani 2 (2016) to the sturdy, underrated actor Amrita Singh in Badla (2019).
Whatever happened to Mahie Gill? The girl who burst onto the screen as the open-hearted, foul-mouthed Paro in Dev.D (2009), the millennial version of Devdas, fell off the map after playing a tiny role as Arbaaz Khan’s girlfriend in Dabangg (2010). “I had three or four movies where I was playing the lead and those filmmakers just backed off, saying I was no longer supposed to be heroine material.” The movies went on to become big hits without her, but she is back in Your Honor Season 2 as a diabolical bar owner with a cocaine-addicted rapper for a brother. After Saheb Biwi Aur Gangster (2011), she says she was inundated with offers where she was expected to wear a sari, look hot, smoke and drink. “I have nothing against that,” says Gill, who had joined the Army as a cadet until an accident while training that scared her family, “but that is not all that I can do.” Streaming services have helped though, and now she gets offered a greater variety of roles. Moving to Goa and having a baby girl, now five, has given her both security and perspective. “For a lecturer’s daughter from Chandigarh, it’s all been a dream,” she says.
Did You Know?
The star of CBS’ new mini-series Ghosts, Utkarsh Ambudkar played the wannabe suitor to the ravishing Richa Moorjani in Never Have I Ever Season 2. Ambudkar, who is also a rapper, is a rising star in the tough and still very white American entertainment universe. Coming up next? He plays the real-life techie Rakesh Madhava in the much-awaited Hulu series, The Dropout, based on Elizabeth Holmes, founder of the fraud blood testingstartup Theranos.