Dr B.R. Shetty, V A Shrikumar Menon and Mohanlal Image Credit: Supplied

Abu Dhabi will be transformed into a lush forest to provide the perfect location for the ambitious mythological epic Mahabharata, starring Mohanlal, by May 2018, said its Abu Dhabi-based producer Dr B.R. Shetty on Sunday.

Shetty, the UAE-based businessman who is willing to allocate a budget of Rs10 billion (Dh570 million) into this multi-lingual project, claimed elaborate sets will be erected in the capital to bring alive the sweeping tale of kings, warrior and powerful queens.

Choosing Abu Dhabi as the first filming location was his way to pay it forward to the region that awarded him all the wealth and success. The duration of the shoot in Abu Dhabi — a filming destination for films such as Star Wars and Bollywood action films Tiger Returns and Bang Bang — is yet to be decided but a substantial portion of the film will be shot here, said its makers.

“We will even create a forest and I have already spoken to the film commission about it … I didn’t come here with any money, so every dirham and fils was earned here in Abu Dhabi for the last 43 years. This is my way to pay it back to this country,” said Dr Shetty.

Directed by V A Shrikumar Menon, the ambitious tale will be spearheaded by award-winning actor Mohanlal.

The team is in the casting stages and have cast their net wide for actors from the world of Indian cinema, Hollywood and across the globe.

“Bhima was never given the due respect in his life and he goes through a lot of emotional turmoil. This film is all about that and it is not just a war film. An actor who can get in the nuances of the character will be able to take on this role and only Mohanlal can do that in India,” said Menon.

The award-winning Malayalam actor, who owns homes in Dubai and has an epic fan following among the Malayali expatriates in the Gulf, has agreed to set aside two years of his life for this project. Trainers and therapists are on call to prepare him for the role physically.

The six-hour plus film will be rolled out in two chapters which will be released with a gap of 100 days.

Asked about the social media war that erupted when a flashy film critic mocked at their choice of an unconventional-looking Malayalam actor as the lead choice of a multi-lingual project, the director said that this detractor would be ashamed for his words.

“He will regret for making that statement after he sees Mohanlal on the big screen,” said Menon.

Mahabharata, which will be made in three languages including Malayalam, English and Hindi and dubbed in all Indian languages, is scheduled to release in 2020.

A star-studded launch with Malayalam superstar Mohanlal will be held in Abu Dhabi in August along with a reveal of the rest of the crew.

The film is based on the 1984 Malayalam novel Randamoozham, by celebrated Indian M T Vasudevan Nair, who has also written the screenplay.