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Friday, December 03, 2021

Not Aishwarya Rai, Priyanka Chopra was JP Dutta’s first choice to play Umrao Jaan: Here’s how the casting changed

As Umrao Jaan (2006) completes 15 years, we recall how Aishwarya Rai came onboard, replacing Priyanka Chopra who was JP Dutta's initial choice to play the courtesan.

By: Entertainment Desk | New Delhi |
Updated: November 3, 2021 9:22:41 pm
umrao jaan aishwarya rai bachchanUmrao Jaan completes 15 years today.

When JP Dutta planned to make Umrao Jaan, based on the Urdu novel Umrao Jaan Ada, getting a lead who’d be at par with Rekha from the Muzaffar Ali classic was a huge challenge. Though today, we might consider Aishwarya as a worthy choice to fit into Rekha’s shoes, back in the day, Aishwarya wasn’t even the first choice of Dutta for the role of protagonist Amiran.

So if we tell you, that not Aishwarya, but Priyanka Chopra was to romance Abhishek Bachchan in Dutta’s 2006 musical drama, will that leave you intrigued?

Priyanka was then a newcomer trying to find her footing in Bollywood. In fact, she had also started preparations to get into the skin of the courtesan. So what changed things? “Her clogged dates diary,” said JP Dutta to PTI in 2005.

Dutta revealed that despite attempts at working on Priyanka’s calendar, the dates issue couldn’t get resolved. “I had reached a stage where I had to take a decision. I wanted to work with Priyanka. I saw her as ‘Umrao Jaan’. But we were at a dead end.”

umrao jaan jp dutta aishwarya rai photos Director JP Dutta and actor Film Aishwarya Rai teamed up for the first time in Umrao Jaan. (Photo: Express Archives)

And while Priyanka eventually got dropped, Aishwarya coming onboard was by chance. It was the time when Aishwarya was preparing for a film on the life of Gayatri Devi, and Dutta met her in London. According to the director, she was keen to work in Umrao Jaan. “Which actress wouldn’t be? At that stage she had no clue about my talks with Priyanka. When she showed an interest I saw Ash as another ideal choice for Umrao Jaan’s role. She has the grace. I can see her as Umrao because Ash is also a proficient dancer,” Dutta told PTI.

The Gayatri Devi film was supposed to be a Walt Disney production, but Aishwarya Rai couldn’t be part of it and Dutta used the dates she’d committed for the former, for his own magnum opus.

umrao jaan stills abhishek bachchan aishwarya rai Aishwarya Rai and Abhishek Bachchan did Umrao Jaan a year before tying the knot. (Photo: Express Archives)

Priyanka was looking forward to her dream role, but she refused to sulk. The global icon told PTI during the same time, “I had great plans about how to play the role. JP saab wanted 90 days of my dates at a stretch which I couldn’t give him. If it didn’t work out, then I guess it wasn’t meant to be. I can’t brood over what didn’t happen when there’s so much that’s happening.”

Umrao Jaan went on become one of the most opulent JP Dutta outings and presented Aishwarya Rai’s grace, beauty and dancing prowess like no other film. The movie, which released in 2006, also starred Shabana Azmi, Suniel Shetty, Divya Dutta, Himani Shivpuri and Kulbhushan Kharbanda among others.

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