| Gurinder Chadha with Aishwarya Rai
London, April 15: No, it ain’t going to be Johnny Depp. The Hollywood actor who will have the pleasure of playing the male lead — the equivalent of Fitzwilliam Darcy — opposite Aishwarya Rai in Gurinder Chadha’s Bollywood version of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice is 28-year-old Martin Henderson.
Born in New Zealand, Henderson is being described by the Chadha camp as “hot and upcoming”. His main claim to fame is that he starred opposite Naomi Watts in The Ring and is due to act in the Warner Brothers’ motorcycle action movie, Torque.
Chadha wanted to keep his identity a secret so that she could unveil him, most probably with Aishwarya alongside her, at the Cannes Film Festival. Aishwarya is to be a judge on the main jury while Henderson would have been flown out from America to the French resort.
Now, the cat is out of the bag, although Pathe Pictures, a UK lottery-backed movie making franchise, was yesterday maintaining “it’s not a done deal.”
There are details to be finalised — there always are — but informed sources confirmed that Henderson is indeed the chosen one.
One of them suggested that Henderson’s agent may have leaked the story prematurely. A source said: “Henderson is very, very keen to act in India. He can’t wait to get there. He’s in love with Ash.”
One assumes that since the two have not met, the comment is only to be taken only in the metaphorical sense and that Henderson is keen to act alongside the Queen of Bollywood.
News of Henderson’s casting has appeared in movie trade journals, including the Hollywood Reporter and Screen International.
The Bollywood adaptation of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice has been written in English by Chadha herself, with her husband, Paul Mayeda Berges. The couple co-wrote Bend It Like Beckham, the highly successful British Asian comedy about a football crazy Punjabi girl which has established Chadha as a director of international repute.
Her new film could be called Bride and Prejudice. This could not be more different from the BBC’s 1996 adaptation, with Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle in the lead roles. The Bennett family of Hertfordshire becomes the Bakshi family of Mumbai, with Aishwarya, the 1994 Miss World, cast as Lalita. Mr Bingley will be Balraj, a British Asian product of Oxford, while Mr Will Darcy will be a young American living in London and who meets the love of his life when he goes to India to attend a friend’s wedding.
So far, Chadha has signed up some big and some not so big Bollywood names for her project — Namrata Shirodkar, Meghna Kothari and Piya are expected to be Lalita’s sisters and Nadira Babbar their mother. There will be at least seven songs, composed by Anu Malik.
Chadha, who will be in Mumbai next week to ensure the film is on track, is being ambitious about locations. The film will be shot in Mumbai, London and Los Angeles. Pathe Distribution will handle the release in the UK and France, and Pathe International in the rest of the world.
It will help Chadha that Pride and Prejudice is certain to be one of the frontrunners in the BBC’s attempt to find the nation’s favourite novel in a poll called The Big Read.