Movie Moghul J.P. Dutta's courtesan's tale Umrao Jaan is courting a captivating cast while recreating an alluring past. After locking in on Aishwarya Rai in the title role and Shabana Azmi as her mother (what a lethal dream-pair!) the visionary in JP has zeroed-in on his favourite blue-eyed for the main romantic lead.
"Abhishek Bachchan is my hero in Umrao Jaan," JP announces proudly amidst hectic pre-production work and music recordings with lyricist Javed Akhtar and composer Anu Malik. "If you remember I was supposed to launch Abhishek in a period film based on the life of Bahadur Shah Zafar and his son, featuring Dilip Kumar and Abhishek. That project unfortunately got shelved. Instead Refugee happened. But my dream of casting Abhishek in the classic mould remained alive within me."
Pausing and pondering JP proceeds, "After Ash was cast as Urmao I needed a man who could look like a poet and a dreamer, and at the same time could stand next to her as an ideal partner. When I closed my eyes, I could only see Abhishek."
At first JP was hesitant to approach Abhishek. "I'm very proud to see the growth in him as an actor, star and humanbeing. I know how busy he has become. He has come a long way since Refugee. Today he's one of the hottest stars, well on the way to becoming No.1. But at heart Abhishek remains untouched and unspoilt. I knew he'd never say no to me. There I was in a dilemma. Would it be right for me to ask for something that he cannot say no to? Finally the filmmaker in me won. I had to have Abhishek as Umrao's love interest."
Abhishek of course said an immediate `yes`. "With JP Saab there's no question of a `no`. Even if he told me to do one passing shot I'd do happily do it," Abhishek almost echoes what Shabana once said about working with Satyajit Ray.
Continues the grateful protÃ©gÃ©. "Everything I know about acting, everything that my career has achieved is because of JP Saab. I haven't asked him my role in Umrao Jaan. All I know is I'm cast opposite Ash. That's it."
This would be Abhishek's third film with Ms Rai, and his second brush with a period film. "I've done a period film with Rituparno Ghosh– Antar Mahal. But I know Umrao Jaan will be a completely new experience."
JP intends to make Abhishek's role roomy and reverberant enough to make the male lead as preponderant as the title role. "Umrao Jaan is about Umrao's search for love, Abhishek will represent love in all its facets," says JP appreciatively.