Box office stakes are high on Jodhaa Akbar, the period drama featuring Hrithik Roshan and Aishwarya Rai, which will hit the theatres on Friday.
The future of several lavish costume dramas scheduled to begin filming in 2008 now depends on the fate of Ashutosh Gowariker's Jodhaa Akbar and the kind of magic it manages to weave at the box office.
It is very simple, really. If UTV's opulent Jodhaa Akbar, estimated at Rs.400 million, fails to work at the box office, all other mega Bollywood ventures based on epics recreating the bygone eras would be aborted.
Period dramas scheduled to go to the floors after Jodhaa Akbar include two epics by Raj Kumar Santoshi, starring Ajay Devgan, about the lives of Mauryan emperor Ashok and the god-king of Ayodhya, Ram, the hero of the epic Ramayana.
While the crew of the movie on Emperor Ashok (there has been another one before starring Shah Rukh Khan) was supposed to begin shooting in February, the prospect now seems unlikely.
"PVR is not too keen on the Devgan-Santoshi pair doing a Rs 400-million costume drama with Devgan as Ram and actress Kajol as Sita. Not after Halla Bol, unless Jodhaa Akbar and the Devgan-Kajol starrer U, Me Aur Hum do well at the box office," said a source in the industry.
Contrary to rumours that Devgan has decided not to work with Santoshi, the two are planning another project instead of Ashok, if Jodhaa Akbar fails at the box office.
Says Santoshi: "Stories about my professional parting of ways with Ajay are totally unfounded. We're going ahead with all our projects, including Ashok. Ajay and I are in constant discussion and we'll be doing many films together in the future. If that is posing a problem to some people, what can I do?"
Though Raj Kumar Santoshi will not spell it out, he has actually been planning a substitute for Ashok with Devgan, if the funds for the epic do not materialise.
The future of the proposed epic based on Ashok Banker's six-volume Ramayana series also seems uncertain.
Some time ago, the television channels went ballistic with announcements about Banker series being made into movies. The channels said Abhishek Bachchan and Aishwarya Rai were scheduled to play Ram and Sita. Amitabh Bachchan and Sir Ben Kingsley's names also did the round for the cast.
However, all four actors have individually denied their participation in the project.