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Ben Kingsley To Play Shah Jahan, Emperor Who Built Taj Mahal

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HONG KONG — Ben Kingsley, famous for his Oscar-winning portrayal of Indian independence hero Mohandas Gandhi, is reaching deeper into the country's history with a new role as the Mogul emperor who ordered the construction of the Taj Mahal.

Kingsley will star as Shah Jahan in "Taj," 27 years after his award winning performance in "Gandhi." Indian superstar and former Miss World Aishwarya Rai Bachchan will play Mumtaz Mahal in the $25-30 million production, the British actor's production company, SBK Pictures, said in a statement sent Wednesday.

The Taj Mahal was built by Mogul Emperor Shah Jahan between 1632 and 1654 for his favorite wife, Mumtaz Mahal, who died while she was giving birth to their 14th child. Soon after its completion, Shah Jahan was deposed by his son and imprisoned at the nearby Agra Fort.

"With my passion for India and the Taj Mahal now becoming one of the Seven Wonders of the World, I am compelled to ask 'why' and 'how' this scream of grief frozen in marble came into being," Kingsley said in the statement.

The company said it is recruiting a director for the script penned by British writer David Ashton and is scheduled to meet with Indian investors later this month.

Kingsley, whose credits also include "House of Sand and Fog," "Schindler's List" and "Sexy Beast," is well-known in India for his Gandhi role. With Bachchan, one of the country's biggest stars, also on board, the project is likely to generate keen interest in India.

Bachchan, whose recent credits include "Jodhaa Akbar," "Sarkar Raj" and "The Pink Panther 2," is married to Abhishek Bachchan, the son of Indian screen legend Amitabh Bachchan.

SBK Pictures said shooting will start in mid- to late 2010.