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July 2005

Mother India loses her favourite son

Sunil Dutt, veteran actor and Union Sports Minister, passed away in Mumbai on May 25 in his sleep, leaving Bollywood and the political world shocked. The multi-faceted man was much respected for his commitment to the values of secularism and social justice. Dutt, popularly known as Dutt saab in the film industry, rose to stardom through sheer dint of hard work. He was one of the first heroes to portray the role of the angry young man. Remember Mehboob's all-time classic Mother India? The film also saw Dutt saab rushing into an inferno on the sets to save the leading lady Nargis, and eventually marrying her. Dutt, in every sense a child of destiny, survived the kind of trial by fire that would make lesser men giddy: Partition, poverty, his wife's death from cancer, his son Sanjay's messy tryst with drugs and a jail term for alleged terrorist links, Dutt emerged from all this stronger than ever before. Dharmendra paying a tearful tribute said that Dutt was "a perfect combination of heroism, sensitivity and compassion". According to Javed Akhtar, "he was a great example of the resilience of the human spirit". Besides Mother India, Sunil Dutt's all-time hits include Waqt and Padosan. His last screen appearance was in the blockbuster Munnabhai MBBS.

Adieu, Ismail!

Acclaimed India-born film-maker Ismail Merchant, 68, died at a London hospital on May 25 after a brief illness. He had recently returned from Shanghai where he was shooting for his film The White Countess. You could call Merchant the original cross-over man for he managed to transcend Mumbai's limitations and carve a niche for himself in Hollywood and beyond. Indeed, nobody did as much as the epicurean Ismail Merchant to put India on the showbiz map of the world. His partnership with American director James Ivory is listed in the Guinness Book of World Records for its amazing longevity ? 44 years! Equally amazing and long-lasting was their creative collaboration with German-born screenplay writer Ruth Prawer Jhabvala. The team produced a string of highly successful literary adaptations including Howard's End, A Room with a View and The Remains of the Day.

Merchant was described as having the "cheek of the devil and the charm of an angel". Though he was a cosmopolitan man, Merchant remained an Indian at heart. He was due to begin directing The Goddess starring pop diva Tina Turner as Shakti later this year

Priyanka is JP's Umrao Jaan

Priyanka Chopra is in the throes of nervous excitement these days. Can't blame her really for the pretty actress has taken on the challenge of stepping into evergreen diva Rekha's shoes. JP Dutta's brand new rendering of the ultimate epic on the courtesan Umrao Jaan Ada will feature Priyanka in the role that Rekha immortalised in Muzaffar Ali's 1981 film. Why Priyanka, and why Umrao Jaan? JP laughs. "After making war films where the boys had everything to do while the girls just got anxious in the background, I thought it was time to let the women come out in the forefront. As for Priyanka, she's graceful, sensuous and most importantly, a very good Kathak dancer." JP hopes to start shooting Umrao Jaan in October.

Incidentally, Priyanka is making a habit of stepping into other actresses' shoes ? in Farhan Akhtar's Don, she plays the role Zeenat Aman essayed in the Amitabh Bachchan-starrer. There was much speculation earlier that Kareeena Kapoor was to do the role.

After Meera, it's Sana now

After all that trouble that Pakistani actress Meera got into over a kissing scene in Nazar, one would have thought that she would have learnt her lesson. But the lady sure is made of sterner stuff. The gorgeous looker is reportedly doing a couple of steamy scenes with singer-actor Lucky Ali in her next Bollywood film, a love story titled Kasak directed by?no, not the Bhatts but Rajeev Babbar. Meanwhile, the hype over Meera has overshadowed her compatriot Sana Nawaz's quiet entry into Bollywood. The pretty lady is starring in Kafila - The Mission, a story of the mad rush of people opting to leave their motherland in search of dreams of better life abroad in developed countries. The film, which also has Sunny Deol and artistes from Bulgaria and Uzbekistan, will be shot in Mumbai, Ladakh, Uzbekistan, Bulgaria and areas along the Indo-Pak border.

Incidentally, Pakistani bowler, Shoaib Akhtar, was offered the role of a gangster-on-the run in Mahesh Bhatt's Gangster but reportedly Sohail has turned it down saying cricket is his first love and will remain so. Even so, the Bhatt camp is not giving up, at least not yet.

?And news just comes in that the Netherlands has honoured Aishwarya Rai by naming a special variety of tulip after her. All of Bollywood seems to have descended upon Amsterdam for the IIFA awards. Also, Ash was recently voted ninth out of 100 most beautiful women in the world in a list compiled by Harpers and Queen magazine.

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