In October this year, the film’s writers, Ila Bedi Dutta, who wrote Karan Johar’s Agneepath, and Rohit Vaid, who is also debuting as a director with the film, had stated in the press that they’d met SRK and he had shown keenness to be a part of the film. Even the superstar had admitted that he was approached for a biopic on Dhyan Chand although he didn’t go into details. However, if sources are to be believed, the producers are now keener to cast a younger actor who can tone his body and be physically in a position to sweat it out in the gym and on the sets.
A couple of scenes, we hear, have been taken out of the hockey player-cum-army officer’s lesser-known life which require a lot of hard work and focus, which usually becomes difficult for actors to put into a physically demanding film like this as they grow older. For instance: it’s said that Dhyan Chand would practice with his coach (who becomes one of the pivotal characters of the movie) throughout the day and sometimes in the moonlight after sunset. His coach would place bottles with numbers on them in front of the goal-post, and let Dhyan Chand see it clearly once. And then, with a blind fold, he would ask him to break a random bottle from any part of the set. The exercise was meant to teach him how to focus. And he was so good that he would break only the bottle he was asked to hit with the ball. .
Producer, Pooja Shetty, from Walkwater Films plans to approach Ranbir Kapoor and Ranveer Singh, and zero in on one of the two new-age superstars since both have the ability to chisel their bodies as required, appear young and have the aptitude to play characters with an age range, and give ample time and energy to the film.
A close friend from Shah Rukh Khan’s circle believes otherwise; he says that SRK may or may not have the time to work for two years on a biopic because his plate is full with Rohit Shetty’s Chennai Express and Farah Khan’s Happy New Year. “He has a lot to do on Chennai Express because it’s his production and he nurtures each one like a baby. He can never shove his responsibilities for Farah’s film because she’s extremely dear to him. So, only if he is completely through with his current assignments can he even think of getting into a hefty project like this,” he adds.
Debutant director Rohit was instrumental in getting the Shettys the rights from Dhyan Chand’s son Ashok and the rest of the family because his own familial connections with the ace hockey star’s kin. He was made in-charge of the film in the director’s capacity. Apparently, the brief for the writers is that the script shouldn’t sound like a documentary. It should have ample elements of a commercial blockbuster.
A source close to the film on condition of anonymity, says, “Ila and Rohit have been working on various assignments including their TV productions. But this film is the focus right now. The second half is ready. The first half is being written at the moment, and once it’s sealed in the next three or four months, the script will be up for Pooja’s approval, and then the film can move into the pre-production stages from mid-next year. Casting will happen simultaneously.”
The film’s budget is estimated between ` 80 and 90 crore. According to our sources, the biopic will be shot at studios in Mumbai, and at a host of real locations in India and abroad which have a connection with the hockey player and his three Olympic golds which form a major part of the narrative. Plenty of special effects are also likely to be used for recreating certain scenes and getting the right effects; for instance while showing nail biting moments of a key match from close quarters. The film goes on floors in the latter half of next year or early 2014, and should take at least six-eight months in the making from then, followed by other post-production work.
Ila Bedi Dutta, the co-writer of the film, is mum on who is likely to be cast eventually, although she had been quoted in the past with her co-writer and the film’s director Rohit Vaid, that they had met Shah Rukh and were keen on the film.
She now maintains, “My statements on Shah Rukh were misrepresented by a tabloid. It was a random discussion that any of us can have. And someone just went and quoted me. It’s a tricky thing to write a biopic. There’s plenty of research involved. We can promise that the film will be at par with international standards. It’s a massive project which means it’s also time consuming and we’ll not leave a stone unturned to make every rupee spent by our producer on this film worth it.”
The trade believes that biopics in India don’t have a market yet. They can please a niche crowd but not the junta. The last one that had worked was Gandhi made by Richard Attenborough two decades ago because it was made on international standards and had that global appeal. Today, though there are several biopics, including three or five on Dhyan Chand alone, there is little chance of biopics finding a market, and a lot will be decided when people watch Farhan Akhtar in Bhaag Milkha Bhaag in July 2013.
Ila says, “This generation doesn’t have heroes. They don’t have someone who they can idolise. Dhyan Chand, as a biopic, works purely because it presents a hero before this generation and shakes them out of their sleep…that if in 1936, this man could achieve what he did, why can’t you with all that you have, including technical advancements…and we don’t mean to make an educational documentary on that sporting legend. We plan to show what makes an ordinary man, a hero.”
Pooja, who we’ve learnt is keen on a younger star (read Ranbir Kapoor) to play Dhyan Chand, whose biopic rights were acquired three years ago by Rohit, says, “Dhyan Chand’s biopic is still at scripting stages. We have not approached any actor. We have never spoken to Shah Rukh about the project. We haven’t discussed anything with Ranbir or Ranveer. I will not approach an actor without a crackling script which is under development as we speak for a project of this magnitude.”