Hollywood finally knocks with a big role for 'Big B'

India's best-kept secret is about to get the wider recognition he deserves. By Andrew Buncombe

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The Independent Online

Over more than four decades, India's top film star, Amitabh Bachchan, has performed in about 150 Bollywood movies as both hero and villain. But despite his prominence within Indian cinema, at no time did an international project come knocking.

As recently as this summer, the 68-year-old wistfully told an online forum: "No one has made an offer, but I am happy working here in India."

But that is all set to change. This week it was confirmed that "Big B" has been signed up to perform alongside Leonardo DiCaprio and Tobey Maguire in a 3D adaptation of F Scott Fitzgerald's, The Great Gatsby. Members of the cast have already arrived in Australia, where filming is set to begin, under the direction of Baz Luhrmann.

"I am personally thrilled that one of the world's great screen legends, Amitabh Bachchan, is joining the cast. Over the years, Amitabh's films have made a tremendous impression on my life and work," Luhrmann told the Indo-Asian News Service. "I was lucky enough to meet Amitabh at his home in Mumbai last year when I was doing a charity art project... We spoke at that time of working together and finding a project in the very near future."

Bachchan is to play the role of Meyer Wolfsheim, a figure from the world of organised crime who helps millionaire Jay Gatsby make his money. In the 1925 novel, which has been filmed a number of times, Wolfsheim is described as a man who fixed the 1919 baseball World Series. Luhrmann added: "With the pivotal role of Wolfsheim, we have found the collaboration. I couldn't be happier. I know that Amitabh is doing this from the point of the quality of Fitzgerald's text, the tremendous cast and, most importantly, as a gesture of goodwill and friendship. I'm honoured to have him on board."

Warner Brothers said in a statement that, in his version of Fitzgerald's melancholic elegy to the roaring Jazz Age, Luhrmann will "create his own distinctive visual interpretation of the classic story, bringing the period to life in a way never seen before". Bachchan was in Australia last month. However, his entries on his blog did not let slip the secret of his forthcoming role. In one cryptic entry on 29 August, he wrote about returning to India and mused: "Time has been spent well and hopefully judiciously. Days ahead will tell us whether it was fruitful or not."

Yesterday the actor, who has starred in popular Hindi films such as Sholay and Deewaar, was remaining unusually silent.