Paani: From Plot, Casting Changes to Controversies, Here’s All You Need to Know About Shekhar Kapur’s Shelved YRF Project With Sushant Singh Rajput

Sushant Singh Rajput died by suicide on June 14 this year. It was so shocking that it took people time to accept that the man is no more. While people felt needlessly obliged to come up with obscure conspiracy theories about what led him to do such a thing, Paani, his shelved project, became one of the major topics of discussions. Yash Raj Films was supposed to bankroll Paani with Sushant in the lead and Shekhar Kapur as the director. But the production house later pulled the plug on it. As per Kapur, the actor was quite distraught about it. With so much being said about the film, we thought of rewinding a bit to know what all Paani went through without getting a single shot taken. Shekhar Kapur Intends To Make Paani As Tribute To Sushant Singh Rajput But With This Condition

The Announcement

Paani was a concept Shekhar Kapur had with him 12 years before it was formally announced in 2010. He had written in his blog in the same year, “12 years ago when I was trying to get funding for Paani, everyone said that I was talking about a fantasy film, that no one would identify with the problem. Today they say I must make the film because it is so relevant.”

Paani was officially announced at the 63rd Cannes Film Festival at a press conference attended by the director, along with Swarovski Entertainment and Walk Water. Kapur didn’t mention anything about the cast then, and it was confirmed that A R Rahman would compose the music.


Paani is a story that revolves around the powerful who exploit the poor in exchange for water. Shekhar had revealed to Mid-Day, “[My film will depict] what happens when the few water companies become the most powerful entities in the world. Water becomes a weapon of economic, political and social control. [The leaders] will follow the practice of ‘Aap humko vote do, hum aapko paani denge’.” It was reportedly a futuristic love story with water politics serving as the backdrop.

The Inspiration

Paani is based on Maude Barlow’s book Blue Covenant: The Global Water Crisis and the Coming Battle for the Right to Water. It was scripted by British writer David Farr. During an interview with Cannes Film Festival’s official website in 2010, Kapur had mentioned that he has a new writer on board who will fly with him to India, stay in slums for three days to understand the issue of water scarcity ‘because he is from England.’

The Cast

As per a Hollywood Reporter story, in 2011, Kapur was in ‘final talks with the film’s as-yet-undisclosed international leading cast, including a popular 18-year-old American actress, a Latin American pop star that is well known all over the world, and a European actor in his mid 40’s’. It also mentioned how Danny Boyle is part of the project as Executive Producer.

Yash Raj Films in 2012 confirmed that they have decided to fund Kapur’s ambitious project. Hrithik Roshan playing the lead in Paani was a common rumour. A Mid-Day report had a source saying that the actor has been talking about the film at the Marrakech Film Festival in 2012. But later Hrithik bowed out of the project, apparently. Before that, Mid-Day had also reported that Vivek Oberoi was in the running as well. Ranbir Kapoor’s name had cropped up too. Later, Sushant Singh Rajput was finalised.

At the Dubai International Film Festival, Kapur revealed why he chose Sushant Singh Rajput for Paani. “I had planned Paani after Bandit Queen. The script has evolved over the years. But it was always about a young boy and it still is. I wanted Hrithik but now he is a man, I see him as a superhero. I can’t blame him. When I saw Sushant in Kai Po Che

, I was really taken in by his attitude. He is perfect for the role.”

At IIFA 2014, PTI quoted John Travolta that he had been approached for Paani. Emma Watson’s name was also thrown in. Sushant Singh Rajput Demise: Mumbai Police to Record Shekhar Kapur’s Statement Next After Interrogating Sanjana Sanghi for 7 Hours

The Budget

As per Hollywood Reporter’s 2011 article, Paani is ‘a $35 million dystopian thriller on a global water crisis set in the “dangerously near future’.’ When Yash Raj Films threw in the towel to bail it out, Paani was said to be the production house’s costliest movie ever.

The Controversies

As per a story on FirstPost from 2015, Kapur had Paani in mind since 1994. At that time Dev Benegal had allegedly threatened to sue him for ripping off his movie Split Wide Open which was made on water woes in urban India.

Hrithik Roshan not being part of the project created a lot of stir. The actor had sounded extremely excited to work with the director at an event in 2012.

But later Tellychakkar reported in 2013, that at Krrish Kids event, he said, “I don’t know. I have no idea.”

Rumours were abuzz that YRF wasn’t interested to go in a profit-sharing model with Hrithik. A Mid-Day report in 2013 quoted a source saying, “Hrithik was offered the film but the production house, Yash Raj Films, was not okay to give him a profit-share in the film which led to both the actor and the production house to part ways.” In the same report, it was mentioned that YRF’s spokesperson rubbished the story that Hrithik was ever approached for the film.

In 2016, in a tweet, Shekhar Kapur revealed that Paani has been shelved and spoke about Sushant working so hard on it.

Sushant reacted to his tweet in 2017 saying,

A Mid-day report in 2019 states that Shekhar Kapur had interest from OTT platforms for making this film. “They wanted to make a web series on the subject. But in my opinion, OTT channels like Netflix and Amazon don’t reach all sections of society. Movies are the best way to reach out to the common man.” The director also mentioned how they are toying with the idea of renaming it Vote Do, Paani Lo

and divide it into parts, just like the Baahubali franchise.

Sushant’s death has put a lot of spotlight on this shelved project. In an Instagram live session with Manoj Bajpayee, Kapur accused, “Paani, producers ne kaha, ‘Hum nahi banayenge Sushant ke saath. Paani nahi banegi.’ (The producers said, ‘We will not make Paani with Sushant. Paani will not be made.’) A Bollywood Hungama report suggests that the cost of the film shown by Kapur made Chopra feel Paani needed SRK. “Shekhar had not shown Aditya Chopra, even a word of the script. In the meanwhile, the numbers being shown by Shekhar for the budget of Paani were way beyond what had been originally discussed. Aditya Chopra said, ‘We cannot make this film with Sushant at the budget that you are showing. For that kind of money, we  need Shah Rukh Khan.’ It was as though Aditya didn’t want to make Paani with Sushant. But the budget that Shekhar showed was not practical for a Sushant starrer,” the source informed Bollywood HungamaSushant Singh Rajput Death Probe: Aditya Chopra Says Paani Was Not Shelved Due To The Actor In His Statement To Mumbai Police

Now looking back at everything surrounding the film, we feel rather than Paani, a movie based on its controversies and problems would make for a really interesting film.

(The above story first appeared on News Brig on Jul 22, 2020 06:00 PM IST. For more news and updates on politics, world, sports, entertainment and lifestyle, log on to our website

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