Martin Scorsese’s self-described “obsession” with his new Jesuit missionary drama Silence began nearly 27 years ago. The film, delayed for lack of funding and legal clarity, is finally hitting US screens this year. Despite struggles, the director persisted in his pursuit of the project because it tackled the complicated question of religious faith, which for Scorsese, who was raised Roman-Catholic, has been a personal quest.
For filmmaking, immediacy has tremendous currency. Rare are the projects that survive a long gestation. But throughout history, some notable passion projects bucked that rule to create waves.
Richard Linklater filmed the 2014 coming-of-age drama in real time – 12 years, to be precise. The director had a beginning and an end in mind, the rest of the story grew as organically as the actual lives of its characters. The cast and crew spent two months in pre-production and half of that in post-production every year to bring 14 minutes of lead character Mason’s development to the screen.
Spielberg’s early interest in the 1993 classic dates back to the 1980s when he read Thomas Keneally’s novel Schindler’s Ark. Although he bought the movie rights to the book, the Jewish director waited 10 years to make the film because he felt that he wasn’t ready to tell a Holocaust story. Spielberg finally made the film at 46 and didn’t accept any royalty or money for it, terming financial earnings from the project “blood money.”
When his movie was honoured with the Palme d’Or at Cannes in 1979, director Francis Ford Coppola said, “My movie is not about Vietnam…my movie is Vietnam.”
Coppola’s loose retelling of Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness was plagued by torrid behind-the-scenes drama. The script had already been held up for six years for want of a director and the production, which was supposed to last around 14 weeks, took almost three years to finish.
During this time, Coppola had to contend with a ballooning budget, torrential weather conditions in the Philippines, lead actor Martin Sheen’s health scare, and a moody, overweight Marlon Brando, among many other things.
Although K Asif’s magnum opus released in 1960, its conception began as early as 1944. The filmmaker’s original choice to play Dilip Kumar’s role – actor Chandra Mohan – died in 1949 and the movie had to be reshot. In the meantime, Asif also lost his financier.
Mughal-e-Azam remained in production for nine years, primarily on account of its sheer scale and logistics. Art director M K Syed took 2 years just to create the Sheesh Mahal replica for the classic song “Pyar Kiya To Darna Kya.” Also, Kumar’s real-life romance with his lead Madhubala had soured and was the source of some strain.
Asif’s labour of love was tested at every turn but upon its release, it came to be seen as Indian cinema’s crowning achievement.
Director Kamal Amrohi and Pakeezah’s leading star, Meena Kumari, also his wife, launched the project in 1958. But it found its way to the screens only in 1972.
First, portions of the film that had been shot in black and white had to be redone in colour in keeping with the changing technological landscape.
Then the major setback: Amrohi and Meena Kumari separated in 1964. The movie was on the backburner until they resumed filming four years later, but by that time the actress was battling severe alcoholism. Due to her critical condition, a body double had to be used to film several long shots of her dancing in the court. She passed away within weeks of the film’s release.
Behind the lens too, there were tragedies to deal with. After the film’s German cinematographer Josef Wirsching was no more, technicians from the industry started chipping in to finish the project. Composer Ghulam Mohammed also didn’t live to see the film to its end; his place was filled in by music director Naushad Ali.
Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s 2015 historical drama was stuck in what is known in filmy jargon as “developmental hell” for 12 years. He had the idea even before making his first Bollywood film Khamoshi in 1996, and wanted to start working on it after Devdas in 2002. Originally he wanted to cast Salman Khan and Aishwarya Rai Bachchan whose chemistry had sizzled in 1999’s Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam.
In 2005, he was mulling on going with Rani Mukerji and Kareena Kapoor for the roles of Kashi Bai and Mastani respectively, but they had already signed a movie together. Bhansali then moved on to other projects.
Before he finally zeroed in on Ranveer Singh for the central Peshwa character, he had also approached Shah Rukh Khan, Ajay Devgn and Hrithik Roshan in vain.