Recently, when Dilip Kumar passed away, Abhishek Bachchan revealed that he was supposed to debut in a film titled Aakhri Mughal, with the late actor. It was supposed to be his debut film but it didn’t materialize. It has now come into light that Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra, too, was supposed to launch Abhishek in his film, which ultimately got shelved. The filmmaker revealed this trivia in his book ‘The Stranger In The Mirror’, co-authored by Reeta Ramamurthy Gupta.
The film in question is Samjhauta Express. It was also supposed to be Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra’s debut film as a director. Music maestro A R Rahman had come on board and so had late production designer Samir Chanda and cinematographer Binod Pradhan. Rakeysh even took a long trip to Ladakh to finalize locations.
Rakeysh wrote in his memoir that Abhishek Bachchan was also kicked about the role. For almost a year (1996-97), Abhishek maintained a diary wherein he used to write about the daily routine of his character, Hassan Sarhadi.
All was going well and the first schedule in Ladakh was about to commence. Rakeysh mentioned in the book that during the wedding of Rakeysh’s wife Bharati’s brother, Jaya Bachchan called to give him the sad news that the Bachchans have given a lot of thought and have decided that not Samjhauta Express but Refugee (2000) would be Abhishek’s first film.
Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra was devastated on hearing this. However, he remarked that he understood that it was a practical decision. He has mentioned, “My script involved Abhishek playing a Pakistan-sponsored terrorist in his first film, which was against the grain of how Indian audiences perceive their hero. Our heroes were seldom grey at that time.”
However, at that point, Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra felt disappointed. “I wanted to argue that the journey of my hero was that of a braveheart, who finally gives up his life for peace and brotherhood and leaves us with a life lesson to love each other. I couldn’t help but wonder: what if the right launch pad for an actor with a gargantuan legacy like Abhishek?”
Rakeysh Mehra then wrote that he was so frustrated that he promised that he’ll never make Samjhauta Express. He took the script, research work, location pictures, costumes etc and burnt them in a bonfire on his terrace. He felt that this was the only way to move on.
Nearly 11 years later, Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra and Abhishek Bachchan collaborated finally on Delhi-6 (2009). Rakeysh also added in the book that even today, Abhishek Bachchan’s name has been saved as Hassan Sarhadi in his phone. Abhishek, meanwhile, has saved his name as Liaquat, which was the name of Hassan’s father in Samjhauta Express.
When Bollywood Hungama exclusively spoke to Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra, this writer asked him if he’d like to revive Samjhauta Express at some point. Rakeysh replied, “That story was very relevant for that time. This was a time when we used to not name the countries and mention terms like ‘padausi mulk’. In that regard, it was a very bold film in its nature. Right now, I think we have all moved on to different plains.”
As for why he didn’t try to cast someone else in place of Abhishek Bachchan, Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra reasoned, “That’s because this was a dream both of us saw together. So I could not envisage anybody else.”