Page last updated at 02:35 GMT, Wednesday, 14 October 2009 03:35 UK

Killings given Bollywood flavour

Cast on the set in Slough
The film has brought a taste of Bollywood to the English suburbs

By Emily Buchanan and Bhasker Solanki
BBC News

Bollywood films are renowned for their fantastical romantic plots mixed with vibrant song and dance routines.

Rarely do they look into controversial issues.

Now, however, a British take on a Bollywood production is doing just that by tackling the practice of so-called honour killings in Britain.

Production has already started in locations in and around the Berkshire town of Slough and brings together a multi-cultural cast and crew from India, Pakistan and Britain.

Such killings involve the victims - usually young women - being murdered by relatives who judge them to have brought dishonour on the family, often because of their social contact with men.

They have been perpetrated for centuries in the Middle East and South Asia but, as communities have migrated, the practice has spread to Europe, including the UK.

Avtar Bhogal
There can never be honour in such killing
Avtar Bhogal, director

The problem is particularly serious across Punjab state, on both sides of the border between India and Pakistan.

Police estimate up to 12 people are murdered each year in the name of honour in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, with a further 500 forced into marriage or attacked. There is a lack of data as the police record killings as murder rather than having a special classification.

It is estimated that over 200 girls are taken out of Britain each year to be forcibly married. There is no way of finding out if some of these girls are killed abroad for refusing to do what the family wants - or if the family finds out they have already found a partner.

On the set of Honour Killings, Indian director Avtar Bhogal says he has long wanted to make a film on the subject and was compelled to do so after discovering the problem existed in Britain.

"There can never be honour in such killing," he said.

His film spans three generations.

Firstly, there is the story of an affluent Sikh businessman - played by the veteran of Hindi cinema Prem Chopra - who is jailed for murdering his daughter after she fell in love with a Muslim man.

When his grandson then also begins a secret relationship with a Muslim woman, it leaves her father racked by indecision, as he weighs up whether he too must kill to protect his family's honour.

Fizzing routines

The tension builds with the prospect of history repeating itself as romance again crosses the religious divide.

In spite of the heavy subject matter, no Bollywood-style film could go without fizzing song and dance routines to draw in the crowds.

Gulshan Grover, who has performed in hundreds of films both in Bollywood and Hollywood, plays the jailed businessman's son.

He feels it is important to highlight social issues in a way that still attracts the public.

"No one wants a film with a message, whereas if the viewership is larger and more people are watching something and a message is slid into it then it's far more effective," says Mr Grover.

The young lead actor is British born Sandeep Singh. He had to travel to Mumbai for specialist training in Bollywood techniques.

Sandeep Singh
Sandeep Singh travelled to India to train in Bollywood techniques

"A Bollywood hero always has to have all the elements... to sing, dance, move around and fight. He has to be very expressive and show emotions, which makes the role challenging."

The Muslim woman he wants to marry is played by popular Pakistani actress Zara Sheikh, while her father is played by another veteran, the Pakistani actor Jawed Sheikh.

Choreographer Longi Fernandes, riding high after the success of his work in Slumdog Millionaire, has been putting the cast through their paces in the grounds of a large house near Slough.

Meanwhile, the part of an Englishman who is a close friend of the businessman's family is played by Tom Alter.

The son of American missionaries, Mr Alter has lived in India all his life and speaks fluent Hindi and Urdu.

He thinks Britain's multi-cultural society provides the best context for the plot.

"Usually in our Hindi films we go to some other location and say it's India. This is a story of England, so it's the only place where we can shoot it."

The cast are filming the emotional morality tale in Punjabi and Hindi, as well as English, and it is to be dubbed into several other languages for the international audience.

Its Punjabi version is to be called Rabba Maph Kare (God forgive us).

The film will be released next spring and there are plans for premieres in Mumbai, Lahore and London.

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