EK AJNABEE. Director: Apoorva Lakhia. Players: Amitabh Bachchan, Arjun Rampal, Perizaad Zohrabian, Vikram Chatwal. Theaterical release (EROS). The Dream Hotel in Midtown Manhattan is indeed the luxe Gotham destination that the hotel’s name suggests. Retrofitted into a lodge originally built in 1895, this swank destination offers amenities such as Bose radios, a pre-loaded iPod and a 37-inch plasma TV in each room. The main lobby houses an elegant two-story aquarium cozying up against a glass elevator that leads to a lower level, which in turn is home to the Chopra Center NY, where Deepak Chopra teaches ayurvedic healing. The lower level, incidentally, was also the setting where the principals from the Bachchan movie Ek Ajnabee gathered on a recent rainy New York evening. The star of the evening—as happens practically everywhere he goes—was Bachchan, flanked by co-stars Rampal and native New Yorker Vikram Chatwal (whose family owns the Dream Hotel), director Lakhia, and producer Bunty Walia. In a hushed mini-auditorium filled with a select audience (read paparazzi, Indian satellite TV newshounds, and jet-setting film aficionados from Wisconsin), Bachchan’s entourage made a fashionably on-time entry and took the front row. The projectionist queued up four longish trailers for the film. The rushes ended, ambient lights clicked in, and Bachchan and Co. took questions. The plot: After a rash of kidnappings put Bangkok on alert, Suryaveer Singh (Bachchan), a down-and-out toughie with a tainted psyche, reluctantly agrees to become the bodyguard of the 9-year-old daughter of a wealthy couple (Zohrabian and Chatwal). The girl is kidnapped and Suryaveer enters into a thrilling winner-take-all grudge match against the mafia by confronting a horde of underworld vermin, including a tattooed bulldog with traffic-stopping good looks (Rampal). The shoot: A near-record 35 days to wrap, according to director Lakhia. Why Bangkok? The filmmaker wanted his actors to physically stand out against the background. This proved to be easier in Thailand with its generally shorter population, since both Bachchan and Rampal hover above 6 feet. Lakhia, who has worked in Hollywood (The Ice Storm, A Perfect Murder) also mentioned that access to better filmmaking technology and increasing professionalism in both India and Thailand is allowing for faster completion of projects. When asked if the cult of personality that instantly follows most megastars in India is unique to India, Bachchan interjected curtly. Snapping at a reporter who used the word “legend” to describe stars in Bachchan’s class (the megastar’s humility can be perplexing), Bachchan opined that the star system ruled Hollywood until not too long ago. Rising literacy rates in India, like they did with Hollywood in the West, will eventually help undo the Indian star system (where megastars are sometimes treated as religious deities) as well. What of the charge that Ek Ajnabee has more than a passing resemblance to the 2004 Denzel Washington entry Man on Fire? Bachchan responded calmly that filmmakers often take inspiration from other filmmakers. According to him, the film world of cinema is replete with borrowed ideas. Even his own earlier movie Aankhen, coincidentally, is being re-made in Hollywood. The verdict: Based on the rushes, Ek Ajnabee comes across as a polished vehicle that tests Bachchan’s lone-wolf-against-the-wind persona. With the added exciting casting of Rampal as the baddie nemesis and Zohrabian as the distressed mother, Ek Ajnabee is one stranger who won’t leave town unnoticed. Aniruddh Chawda writes from Wisconsin, on America’s north coast.
Aniruddh C. | Dec 16, 2005