Whenever Hollywood biggies flew down to film the heat and dust of India, a young Bengali called M.R. Shahjahan would be there. As an 18-year-old, he was assistant director to Richard Attenborough when he shot Gandhi. A couple of years later, when Ismail Merchant came for In Custody and Steven Spielberg made his Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, he was again there. Perhaps it is this strange apprenticeship that made Shahjahan go for a global cast and crew for his second movie, Karma: Crime, Passion, Reincarnation, that was premiered at Osian’s Cine Fan.
The title might be clichéd and the locale might be the mist-laden but trite hills of camera-friendly Ooty, but the cast is a surprise. If the director of photography Lucio Cremonese is Italian, the editor Alexandra Wedenig is Austrian, and costumes are by a Croat. While Vijayendra Ghatge is an Indian presence onscreen, the lead pair are Americans Carlucci Weyant and Alma Saraci.
“I’ve been part of the television industry and Bollywood and I want to make commercially viable films. But I don’t want to limit myself to Bollywood. With the films that I am making today, I want to reach a larger, international audience,” says Shahjahan who, however, debuted in Hindi filmistan in 1991with Afsana Pyaar Ka that had Aamir Khan and Neelam in the lead. His new film, Karma, follows New Yorker Vikram who is estranged from his father but decides to visit his home in Ooty at the insistence of his bride Anna. Then it is a cocktail of murder, ghost and reincarnation, not very unlike a Bollywood film.
Shahjahan and his producer Vivek Singhania, who have already shown the movie at Cannes Film Market, are quite candid about wanting to break into the international circuit. “After the screening at Cannes, we got excellent feedback. European and foreign audiences are looking for a film that is Indian in essence, but whose production values are international. The West recognises karma and its philosophy, they’re interested in such films,” says Shahjahan. Perhaps, its global karma will come to its help when the film releases commercially in India towards the end of the year.