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BOLLYWOOD'S 'RAJU CHACHA' PREMIERS IN HOLLYWOOD
BY Lisa Tsering
India-West Staff Reporter
Beverly Hills, Calif.- Two oversized golden Oscar statues looked on bemusedly as for the first time ever, a Bollywood spectacular was screened in the lush auditorium of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences here Dec. 28.
The occasion was the world premiere of Raju Chacha, marking the first time a Bollywood film had its world premiere in Los Angeles. The film, which is India's most expensive film to date, is superstar Kajol's first since her marriage to actor Ajay Devgan in February of 1999.
Billed as a family film, Raju Chacha tells of three bratty children, their spunky governess (Kajol) and the man who loves her(Devgan).
'We've put a lot of passion into the making of this film," Devgan told India-West.The whole idea of coming here for the premiere was that we were quite satisfied and proud of the fact that we could manage to make a film like this." Devgan publicly estimated the budget at around Rs. 30 crores but told India-West privately that adding on the actors' fees, the figure was closer to Rs. 36 crores ($8.5 million).
A near-capacity crowd paid $30 per person to attend the screening and a reception at the Academy, with proceeds going to the Indian American Cultural and Educational Foundation.
Onstage, welcoming the audience to the screening, guest of honor Vijay Amritraj, a former tennis star who now heads First Serve, Entertainment, a multi- media production company, joined Kajol and Ajay Devgan; music directors Jatin and Latit; IACEF founder Inder Singh; First Serve executive Munish Gupta; Devgan Entertainment and Software Ltd. executive Misha Gautam; Abhesh Verma, the young CEO of SmasHits.com, the Fairfield, Iowa, Web portal which organized the premiere; dialogue writer Javed Siddiqui; and actor Govind Namdev.
"This film is an example of what India has achieved in terms of filmmaking" said Gupta. Amritraj praised SmasHits.com for its 'magnificent job in putting this whole thing together.'
Kajol's remarks were brief. "I suffer from extreme stage fright," she said. 'I have nothing to say except, enjoy the film!" and with, a toss of her long black hair, she exited the stage.
Kajol looked demure in a black chiffon sari'with' a glittering, black long-sleeved sweater underneath, accented with a red and gold shawl and a diamond 'Om' on a gold chain.
In an interview earlier in the day with India-West at the Four Seasons hotel, Kajol said she and Devgan had originally intended to produce the film with another actress in the lead role of Anna (neither:would divulge the name of the other actress, however).
'Anna is really an amazing character,"Kajol said." When we sat down on story discussions for the film, it was originally intended for somebody else. Suddenly as the character began to develop, she had some amazing scenes in the film.
'Like for instance, there s a scene at the beginning of the film where she's talking to this child about God - what she thinks about God and what she thinks being an orphan is all about.
'I don't want to tell you everything, I want you to see the film, but it's such an amazing philosophy and such an amazing scene I said, 'I want to do that! I want to do that!' I threw a fit."
Laughing, she continued, 'I said. 'I'm a producer, I'm pulling rank now. O.K., I want to do the film. 'Ajay said, 'l give up, I give in, you can do it!"
Ajay Devgan and his company, Devgan Entertainment and Software Ltd., were widely criticized for allowing the budget of Raju Chacha to spiral out of control. A number of special effects techniques were used during a horror sequence in the film, and a castle was specially built near Ooty at a cost of around $965,000 (it took 14 months to construct in Mumbai, and was transported in 95 trucks to a hilltop in South India on 110,000 square feet of land).
"People said the film was going 'over budget' but I don't think that's true,' he told India-West, "because you go over budget when you have a budget. We never had one."
The film was in the process of being produced by somebody else at first, Devgan explained.
'We worked on it and got so involved, and we realized that the script demanded a very high budget, so I went to my producer and said, 'Look: we really want to do this our way. I wouldn't want you to turn around tomorrow and say, you spent so much and wasted my money.' I told them, instead, 'I will do another film for you and take over this film as my own production, because then I don't have the guilt of dealing with someone else's money.' "
Raju Chacha is the debut of director Anil Devgan, a cousin of the star's and an assistant director with nearly 14 years of experience, Ajay Devgan said. "The film is a family entertainer," said Anil Devgan. "It has a whole- some message'"
In the film, Siddhant Rai (Rishi Kapoor) is a wealthy industrialist and a widower who shares his fantastical mountain castle with his three children, Rohit, Rani and Rahul. Surrounded by (literally) thousands of toys, the three kids have be- come incorrigible brats since the death of their mother, and it takes the most clever and no-nonsense governess to earn their respect.
A conman with a heart of gold, Shekhar (Devgan), falls in love with Anna and through a complicated turn of events ends up posing as a long-lost member of the family, Raju, to save the family's fortune from some greedy relatives.
The filmmakers hope that what will ultimately work in the film's favor is the fact that Raju Chacha marks the return of Bollywood's sweetheart, Kajol, in a role perfectly suited for her.
They also feel the film will appeal to Indians all over the world. "I think Indian culture is just one," Kajol said. "It doesn't matter if you are an NRI or if you live in India. You still do the same pujas and you still have the same identity."