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Rs 1,000 cr for ‘The Mahabharata’: Meet the man behind India’s most expensive film ever

Ahamad Fuwad New Delhi 18 Apr 2017, 12:16:21 IST
Ahamad Fuwad

While India gears up for the release of ‘Baahubali 2: The Conclusion,’ touted as among the most expensive films in the domestic film industry, a UAE-based Indian businessman has gone one step ahead to produce a film at a cost of Rs 1,000 crore.

The magnum opus will be based on the epic ‘Mahabharata’ and will be directed by noted ad man and advertising film maker V A Shrikumar Menon. It will be produced in two parts and is scheduled to go on the floors by September 2018 for a release in early 2020.

The second part will be released within 90 days of the first.

Titled "The Mahabharata,” the film is being produced by UAE-based Indian businessman B R Shetty.

Man behind India’s most expensive film: BR Shetty

Founder and Non-Executive Chairman of Abu Dhabi-based NMC Healthcare and Chairman of UAE Exchange, Dr. BR Shetty has interests spanning across sectors including pharmaceuticals, global financial services, retail, advertising and information technology.

Born in Kaup, Udupi in Karnataka in 1942, Shetty has a clinical degree in pharmacy. He arrived in the UAE in 1973 and established New Medical Centre (NMC) in 1975 which is now the UAE’s largest private healthcare provider. 

Shetty, regarded as one of the best connected businessmen in the UAE, also owns the 100th floor of Burj Khalifa in Dubai.

Said to be a keen supporter of Indian arts and culture, Shetty has been honoured with many awards in the UAE and India. He was the first recipient of the ‘Order of Abu Dhabi’ by the Govt. of Abu Dhabi in 2005, the highest civilian award for contribution to the development of the community and the cause of the Emirate. 

Back in India, he has been conferred with the Pravasi Bhartiya Samman Award and the ‘Padma Shri’ by the Indian government in 2007 and 2009 respectively. 

According to Forbes magazine, Shetty has a wealth of USD 1.3 billion (Rs 8,300 crore).

Besides his numerous business interests, Shetty is also known for his philanthropic activities. He runs numerous schools and colleges in the UAE and even in India. 

According to his website, he has played a vital role as President of the Abu Dhabi Cricket Council and was instrumental in building the ultra-modern Sheikh Zayed Cricket Stadium that played host for many official international fixtures. 

“The Mahabharata” would not be his first tryst with the cinematic universe. He played Dharmaraja, the King of Travancore in the historical documentary ‘Travancore: a Saga of Benevolence’, which was chosen as the best documentary cinema of 2011, his website says.

The Mahabharata:

This magnum opus is being directed by noted ad man and advertising film maker V A Shrikumar Menon.

"The film will be shot primarily in English, Hindi, Malayalam, Kannada, Tamil and Telugu and will be dubbed into major Indian languages and leading foreign languages," a release from a company owned by Shetty said.

The film will be a coming together of the crème de la crème of Indian and global cinema in terms of cast and crew.

The technical crew would include some of the great names in world cinema, including some Academy Award winners. The cast would have the best of talents from Indian cinema, as well as some big names from Hollywood.

"This film will have an identity across continents, with their representatives donning the myriad characters in The Mahabharata! A global team led by an internationally renowned casting director will handpick the cast," the release said.

It remains almost impossible to narrate The Mahabharata on the big screen except by adaptation of M T Vasudevan Nair's Jnanpeeth Award winning novel Randamoozham (The Second Turn), which narrates the epic through the eyes of Bhima, the second of the Pandavas.

"The screenplay is written by the writer himself, who holds a record of maximum national awards for screen writing in the history of Indian cinema," the release said.

This ancient Sanskrit epic has been a topic of creative adaptation in various formats for many decades.There have also been efforts to render it, but successes have been limited to the stage or serialisation for television audiences.

Hence, this project would be the first of its kind to take the epic which has engaged generations of audiences on the silver screen at such a grand level, the release said.

Shetty said the movie would be a true "Make in India" made for the world and he believed it would not only set global benchmarks, but also reposition India and its prowess in mythological storytelling.

"I am confident that this film will be adapted in over 100 languages and reach over three billion people across the world," he was quoted as saying in the release.

Commenting on the initiative, Padma Bhushan awardee and noted Malayalam writer M T Vasudevan Nair, recipient of almost every literary award in India, including Jnanpith Award and many abroad, said he was extremely happy with Shettys belief in the story's potential and his passion and commitment to take it to global audiences.

Shrikumar Menon, Director, who has been living the script and researching for this project for the past few years, said "We are fully geared to attain the next level of production quality and visual magic, as well as narrative wizardry with this initiative."