Cleopatra Goes to Bollywood, or what I am spending time on instead of the critical post I promised . . .

So, until I finish my longer post on the parallels between the decadence of "Devdas" (2002) and Cleopatra (1963), the question I can't get out of my head is this: If Hindi cinema had tried to tackle Cleopatra, what would it have looked like? And who would have starred in the three major roles?*

Trying to cast different actors from different eras in the same hypothetical film might just break my brain. In self defense then, I think I'll have to stick with one era. While the early 2000s seems to have been the decade for sweeping historical epics (Lagaan, Devdas, Umrao Jaan, Asoka), the Bollywood aesthetic and actors I enjoy the most are all found about 25-30 years earlier. So, let's offer some straight up Masala to Queen Cleopatra and see how she likes it.

1. Cleopatra. 

The challenge: Well, since you are playing one of the most high-profile woman in history, you probably already have an idea of what you have to do. Problem is, so does everyone else. You must be simultaneously seductive, persuasive, clever . . . and be able to look even more beautiful when you are angry than when you are happy.

My pick: 

Zeenat Aman

She was often accused of trading on her looks, but that's a common insult applied to many unbelievably beautiful women in the film business. (And probably Cleopatra, too!) Whatever paper-thin roles she might have done, she also proved (like in the above scene from Satyam Shivam Sundaram), that she could hold in her own in a scene where she had to stand up to the hero, and Shashi Kapoor's (albeit dubious) hero at that.

Runners up: Rekha

2. Mark Antony

The challenge: Your nobility has to match your ambition. We must always feel that though you have a burning desire to, umm, rule . . . you want it because you believe you are the best person to be king. You are charismatic, and you kind of know it (maybe a little too well). You need to portray a believable struggle between romantic feelings and personal goals.

My pick: 


Perhaps he doesn't have the Shakespearean/dramatic chops of say Naseerudin Shah or the aching sensitivity of Shashi Kapoor. But hey, he's got the jawline. Which I should have perhaps mentioned counts for extra points when it comes to Antony. (If it were truly up to me, I would say that Shashi could much better manage the snappy dialogue. But he just doesn't have the "look," nor do I see him as a world conquering type.)

Runner up: Vinod Khanna

3. Julius Caesar

The challenge: You are above all a man of wisdom and experience. A man who has been through war. You know when a plan is feasible, and when it is not. You are a strange mixture of civilization and barbarism. You're also ready to stop trying so hard and settle down. That is until a woman clouds your vision.

My pick: 

Shatrughin Sinha

Dude knew how to address a crowd. Remember those scenes in "Aa Gale Lag Jaa?" He could really work a room! As it is hard to compete with SS's brand of theatrics, once his name came up, he instantly got the part.

Runner up: None

Bonus round: Octavian

The challenge: Most of the time you should be petty without showing much emotion. Be more than a little self absorbed and odd. When you have bided your time, you will surprise people who have disliked you with the depth of your ambition and self-preservation in a tight spot. Talk about loyalty, but expect people to fold because you are holding all the cards. Be extraordinarily fond of exhibitionist monologues that achieve your ends.

My pick: 

Photo courtesy of this blog.
Karan Johar!

OK, so I didn't follow my own rules laid out above. But, he'd be perfect, right?

Till next time!

*I'm hardly the first to do a post dedicated to recasting a Hollywood movie in Bollywood. Thanks for the inspiration Old is Gold and others!


  1. I think those would all be excellent choices, except that Karan Johar scares me for the sole reason that he is a director. Basically that means we get to see inside his brain and.....I just don't want to know what's in there!

    I'm joking, I've never really hated his movies, but I do feel like he would be the kind of person who'd have an inner madness that would explode all over the place at the most random and inconvenient time. And I should know.

  2. That's a great point about not wanting to be privy to the inner-workings of Karan Johar. I was being facetious of course. I agree about the random and inconvenient madness. That also really sounds like a Roman emperor trait, don't you think?

  3. And of course, we are both basing some of the "inner madness" thing on the addictive yet wretched Koffee with Karan, right? How odd is he on that show?

  4. Zeenat Aman - cleopatra? Nah - Hema Malini would make a good Cleopatra - not only in the physical sense of beauty but she can also exhibit a sense of hautiness (hope got the spello right - haughty). See some of Hema's movies with Amitabh - you will know what i mean - satte pe satta, naseeb, desh premee, kasuati etc

    Also definitely not Karan Johar! Sorry i am coming across as a person with strong views which i guess i have where this mediocre guy is concerned. The guy who directed swades and jodha akbar comes to mind - forgetting his name- provided he gets a good editor and keeps it short and direct.

  5. No worries, Filmbuff. I love it when people have strong opinions (I even have a few myself, lol). I see what you're saying about Hema Malini, and a couple of those films you mentioned are on my current to-watch list. I haven't seen her in much yet, so I probably would still need some convincing to pick her over my personal favorite, Zeenat.

    Casting Karan Johar was my little joke. His personality reminds me a lot of the character of Octavian in the Hollywood film--who is certainly powerful, but ultimately not that likeable of a guy. He's not the villain, exactly, but he's also never going to be the hero. Sound like Karan, a bit? I haven't loved any of the Karan Johar movies I've seen, but I also wouldn't discount him completely of course. He's made a lot of waves and set a lot of bars, and I have to respect that at least.

    I don't know who would direct this pretend film--but I think you're on to something about the Jodhaa Akbar director, Ashutosh Gowariker . . . because this hypothetical movie would definitely need a director with an eye for the epic and panoramic.

  6. yep that is the guy I had in mind! The only karan johar movie I liked was his first one kutch kutch hota hain - none of the others. I am also not very fond of the yash raj stable movies - so many mediocre ones they have dished out esp aditya chopra - dad yash chopra has made some good movies including kala pathar, deewar, his earlier 50s movies based on social themes before he ventured into turning out the "running around the swiss alps in chiffon sarees movies" although Lamhe was good in terms of story, acting, songs etc.

    Watch Hema Malini in Seeta aur Geeta and in Andaz with shammi kapoor

    1. Yash Raj is an unstable stable :) You kinda of always know what you're going to get, but you never know if you're going to like what you get. I disliked Kuch Kuch Hota Hai, but found some things to like about Kal Ho Naa Ho. However, I AM a huge fan of anything Yash Chopra in the seventies (which might be obvious by the screencaps on my blog), including things he produced, like Doosara Aadmi. (I think the only ones from the seventies I haven't seen are that Dev Anand movie, and Trishul.) However, from there on I don't especially find his movies all that compelling. I haven't been able to get through Silsila yet, and from all the clips I've seen of Chandni or Lamhe, from what I can see, it's a whole lot of pretty, but not at all satisfying story-wise. Waqt and Dharmputra, however, I am looking forward to seeing.
      I finally saw Hema in something that I really loved--and it definitely changed my perspective a bit--Sholay. And she was pretty darn awesome in it.


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