The Show Must Go On: How Incomplete Films Coped With The Passing Of Their Lead Actors

Ahead of the release of Rishi Kapoor’s posthumous release, Sharmaji Namkeen, we look at how other filmmakers coped in the face of similar tragedies
The Show Must Go On: How Incomplete Films Coped With The Passing Of Their Lead Actors

The matters of life and death are beyond anyone's control. When a person passes away, its only natural for the people near them to feel as if moments with them have been cut short. And if there's grief, there's a lot of coping too. When an actor passes away, they leave behind a plethora of fans in a nation that loves the movies. Many a time, they also leave behind incomplete projects – their final appearances. Situations like these can be tricky and often baffling for filmmakers, who on one hand, would want to pay their respects to their leading stars, and on another, would want to make their film in the best way possible.

When Rishi Kapoor passed away in 2020, along with a rich legacy comprising four decades of cinema, he also left behind his swansong, Sharmaji Namkeen. At the time of his death, there were a few portions of the film that were left to be shot. And so, to honor their lead actor's contribution to Hindi cinema, the makers took the call of shooting the remaining portions of the film with Paresh Rawal stepping into Kapoor's shoes as Sharmaji.

With the film now set to release on March 31 on Amazon Prime Video, we look back at some other instances where filmmakers coped with similar tragedies and found a way to keep the show going.

Paul Walker, Furious 7

Several important sequences were yet to be filmed in Furious 7 at the time of Walker's death. The makers could've opted to kill his popular character but chose to complete the film honouring the actor and their long partnership through the franchise. Along with his two brothers, actor John Brotherton and CGI, they created 350 shots. 260 of them had his computer-generated face superimposed over Brotherton, Caleb or Cody Walker, with the remaining 90 repurposed stock footages or outtakes comprising the actor's face.

Sushant Singh Rajput, Dil Bechara

While Rajput had finished the shooting of the film, the dubbing for the climax sequence was yet to be completed. The makers roped in Aditya Chaudhary, a radio jockey, to finish the dubbing of the remaining portions, which included the crucial monologue towards the end of the film.

Divya Bharti, Laadla

Bharti was an emerging star and had several films, including Mohra and Laadla, in the pipeline in the early 90s. For the latter, she had, in fact, finished almost 80% of her portions. However, the makers decided to replace her and reshoot all her scenes with Sridevi after her passing.

Heath Ledger, The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus

While Ledger had completed a significant portion of the film, director Terry Gilliam had suspended the film's production indefinitely post the actor's demise. Eventually, the script was tweaked to showcase Ledger's character in alternate versions – portrayed by his friends Johnny Depp, Jude Law and Colin Farrell – as he travels through magical realms. Ledger's scenes were retained in the film as the protagonist's real-world appearance.

Raghava Uday, Kaanadante Maayavadanu

Uday was signed on to portray the central antagonist in the Kannada film and had even completed 75% of the shooting of his portions. The makers stalled the film after his death in 2016. It was later decided that the same character would be portrayed by different actors before and after the interval. Most of Uday's sequences were retained for the first half, while actor Bhajarangi Loki stepped into his shoes in the second.

Oliver Reed, Gladiator

Reed played Antonius Proximo in 2000's epic historical drama. After his demise, the post-production company, The Mill, had to create a digital body double by photographing a live-action body double and using a 3D computer-generated image of Reed's face for his remaining scenes in the film. All this was implemented at an estimated cost of 3.2 million dollars for two minutes of additional footage.

Puneeth Rajkumar, James

The recently released Kannada film was Puneeth Rajkumar's final project. At the time of his passing, most of the film had been shot already, other than one song sequence and an action sequence – both of which were eventually scrapped by director Chethan Kumar. Rajkumar's elder brother, Shivarajkumar, completed the actor's dubbing over two and a half days.

Bruce Lee, Game Of Death

The film released five years after Lee's death. The original plot (also written and to be directed by Lee), in which the protagonist was supposed to save his siblings by joining a martial arts group, was tweaked to a revenge saga, as Enter The Dragon director Robert Clouse stepped in to finish the film. The final version of the film included smaller portions of the original footage shot before Lee's death, while the majority comprised his stand-ins, Korean taekwondo master Kim Tai-jong and Hong Kong martial artist Yuen Biao, in various disguises to fit the new plot. One controversial scene even had a shot of Lee lying in his real casket to show his character faking his death, while several close-up shots included the late actor's stock footages from his pre-Enter The Dragon days.

Sanjeev Kumar, Professor Ki Padosan

The film was shot only up to 75% at the time of Kumar's death in 1985. The makers then decided to change the storyline towards the end of the film, allowing Kumar's character to become invisible in the remaining portions. The film subsequently released in 1993 with Sudesh Bhosle chipping in as the dubbing artist for the actor.

Bela Lugosi, Plan 9 From Outer Space

In a rather bizarre decision, director Ed Wood shot Lugosi's scenes with his wife's chiropractor Tom Mason as a stand-in, who neither bore a resemblance with the actor, nor had any prior acting experience. Footages of both actors were eventually used in the film, with the significantly taller Mason's shots taken with him covering his face with a cape. In fact, Lugosi's sequences too were never taken for Plan 9 From Outer Space – they were, in fact, five minutes of test footage from his would-be comeback vehicle, The Vampire's Tomb, also directed by Wood.

Carrie Fisher, Star Wars: The Rise Of Skywalker

Fisher's unused footages from Star Wars: The Force Awakens were repurposed to bring General Leia to life in Episode IX, perhaps for one last time. The makers created a digital body for her sequences, while her face and expressions from the previous footages were superimposed. Her daughter Billie Lourd was also called in to shoot a flashback sequence where her face was replaced by footages of Fisher in earlier Star Wars movies.

Madhubala, Jwala

Her last credited appearance was in Jwala (1971) – her only film to be completely shot in colour – which released two years after her demise. The film was in the works since the late 50s. However, after Madhubala's health started to deteriorate, the makers decided to shelve the project. It remained shelved for a decade before the team decided to resume its shooting after the news of her death. They used several body doubles to finish her remaining portions, which included the climax as well.

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