Mumbai: ‘Nayak: The Real Hero’ – the finest political thriller had hit the theatres on September 7, 2001. Though it failed to work its magic at the box office but it surely touched a chord with the common man. The movie tells the extraordinary story of a reporter who was challenged by the Chief Minister to take up his post for a day and see how difficult his job is. But the way lead actor, Anil Kapoor brings a revolution and the ease with which he plays the role of Shivaji Rao Gaekwad, it is unbelievable that he was not the original choice for the role.
In 2001, Shankar had shared some interesting trivia about the film’s casting with a leading magazine. In his interview he revealed that he had approached Aamir Khan to play the lead. He then said, “But the two of us faced a huge communication gap. His views about ‘Mudhalvan’ (1999) didn’t match mine, so I quickly moved on.” It is to be mentioned that ‘Nayak’ was the remake of ‘Mudhalvan’, which was also directed by Shankar.
The director had then admitted that he then approached Shah Rukh Khan and said, “Shah Rukh was more receptive than Aamir but he begged off saying that since he had played a television reporter in his home production ‘Phir Bhi Dil Hai Hindustani’ (2000) which had just been released, he wasn’t keen on taking on a similar role at such a short interval.”
After this Shankar was not sure whom to approach next. This is when Boney Kapoor came in and sent him a feeler that his brother Anil Kapoor would be happy to work with him. Shankar was happy that he collaborated with the evergreen actor, “I’d heard that Anil was one of the most disciplined actors in the Hindi industry and so I decided to sign him on. My gamble has paid off. Anil Kapoor has completed my film in record time, and he showed a level of discipline which I thought was there only down South.”
For lead actress, Shankar had signed Rani Mukerji, who looked adorable as the village belle, Manjari. However, Interestingly, the same part in original ‘Mudhalvan’ was played by Manisha Koirala. Upon being asked why he didn’t cast Manisha in Nayak, Shankar replied, “Rani Mukerji has the bubbly image I needed for the character. Manisha is a good actress but she has been around in Hindi cinema for a decade now. In the Tamil version, we could get away with casting Manisha because she isn’t all that exposed in the South. For Hindi, I needed someone like Rani Mukerji or Preity Zinta.”