Farhan Akhtar, Ritesh Sidhwani Update Excel Slate, ‘Don 3,’ ‘Jee Le Zara’ (EXCLUSIVE)

Indian studio Excel Entertainment’s founders Ritesh Sidhwani and Farhan Akhtar have revealed a robust upcoming production slate.

Up next is “Fukrey 3,” the next instalment of the hit comedy-crime franchise directed by Mrighdeep Lamba, which is due a theatrical release Sept. 28. Action-drama “Agni,” directed by Rahul Dholakia, is in the works and due a 2024 release. “Ground Zero,” directed by Tejas Prabha Vijay Deoskar, is currently in post-production and is based on a true-life story. Comedy-drama “Madgaon Express,” the directing debut of actor Kunal Kemmu, is also in post and Ravi Udyawar’s action-thriller “Yudhra” is in the works.

On the streaming front, “Dabba Cartel,” a story of five housewives who run a high-stakes secret cartel, which is Excel’s first show for Netflix, has just started filming. Also for Netflix is original film “Kho Gaye Hum Kahan,” an urban friendship saga directed by Arjun Varain Singh, starring Ananya Panday, Adarsh Gourav and Siddhant Chaturvedi. Zoya Akhtar’s “The Archies,” a co-production with Tiger Baby Films, will stream on Netflix from December.

For Prime Video, season 3 of hit hinterland gangland show “Mirzapur” is due in the first quarter of 2024, and “Unseen,” Excel’s first foray into the supernatural horror series space, is complete.

Namrata Rao’s “Angry Young Men,” a Tiger Baby co-production, which is a three-part documentary series on famed Bollywood screenwriters Salim Khan and Javed Akhtar, who created Amitabh Bachchan’s ‘angry young man’ persona in the 1970s, is also complete.

Akhtar’s return to direction after 12 years, feature film “Jee Le Zaraa,” announced with Bollywood A-listers Priyanka Chopra Jonas, Katrina Kaif and Alia Bhatt in the cast, is on hold at the moment. “We just have issues with dates, and the actor’s strike that’s happened has put Priyanka’s dates into a huge tizzy with what can happen and what can’t, so I’ve started genuinely believing that that film now has a destiny of its own. It’ll happen when it has to, we’ll see,” Akhtar told Variety.

Instead, Akhtar will star in what he describes as a “slice-of-life romantic musical” directed by Nitya Mehra (“Made in Heaven”), which does not have a title yet, and will return to directing next year with “Don 3.”

“Don” (1978) starred Amitabh Bachchan in dual roles – that of a ruthless mafia don and his look alike Vijay, a slum-dweller who is brought in by the police to masquerade as the gang leader after his death. In 2006, Akhtar rebooted the franchise with Shah Rukh Khan in the lead playing the dual roles of Don and Vijay in “Don: The Chase Begins Again.” The film was a smash hit and a 2011 sequel “Don 2” followed.

“Don 3” will see Ranveer Singh as the latest actor to take on the role. On the change of casting, Akhtar said, “I’m not in the position of replacing anybody. These are things that we discussed over the years, I wanted to take a certain direction with the story, somehow we just couldn’t find common ground. We just parted mutually knowing that it’s probably for the best. So that’s where it is,” Akhtar said.

“I’m really excited Ranveer’s on board. He’s so charged and so ready to go. It’s a big film, just purely from the point of view of an actor, it’s a big thing to do, and we’re really excited to have him on board. His energy is energizing us, so to speak,” Akhtar added.

Excel is currently basking in the success of Amazon Prime Video series, Indian mafia saga “Bambai Meri Jaan,” which launched at a glitzy event in London recently. “Amazon has seen the success of shows leading up to this, how slowly, but surely Indian shows are creating a space and a market for themselves. Hopefully, this will further that cause,” Akhtar said.

Sidhwani added: “It’s encouraging, because what you realize is most of the popular shows in that genre like ‘Narcos,’ ‘Money Heist’ or ‘Squid Game,’ they’re all in their original language, they’re not in English. This is that kind of show, which all of us have been believing in.”

Excel is also developing content internationally, while maintaining its India focus. “Suddenly we’ve got an opportunity with our work, which has been on streaming platforms, where people have now discovered stories out of India, they know about us, they know the kind of stories we tell, we’re hoping to now take that and try to make a mark,” Sidhwani said.

The Mumbai-based company also has a keen eye on the flourishing south Indian market, the largest in India, as barriers of content being restricted to regional silos are fast disappearing in the post-pandemic era. “The more industries interact, the more they cross-pollinate, the more fun it is for everyone,” Akhtar said.

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