In a bid to penetrate the international film market, Indian filmmakers are taking the historical route with several Hindi and English period pieces now going into production.

Indian actor Shah Rukh Khan is producing and acting in a film on the ancient Indian emperor, Ashoka, directed by Santosh Sivan who earlier made the internationally acclaimed festival filmThe Terrorist.

Filmmaker Rajkumar Santoshi has announced his new bilingual film (Hindi and English) on an Indian Freedom fighter titled The Legend Of Bhagat Singh.

Film actor Aamir Khan is producing a film set in the British Raj period, called Lagaan, which is slated for a January 2001 release.

And Bengali filmmaker Gautam Ghosh is planning an ambitious bilingual film (Hindi/Urdu and English) on Dara Shukhoh, the successor to Mughal Emperor Shahjehan's throne, who was eliminated by his more ambitious younger brother, Aurangzeb. Ghosh has set his sights on none other than Tom Cruise for the lead role.

At the same time, Hollywood based Krishna Shah is scouting for talent for his Taj Mahal which is likely to go into production in 2001.

All this production activity is happening even as the Indian film industry comes to grips with last month's kidnapping in Southern India of 72-year-old Kannada-language movie superstar Rajkumar by jungle bandit Veerappan, a notorious ivory smuggler who stands accused of 120 murders. Already, other top talents have been seeking enhanced security measures.

The abduction not only caused riots in the state of Karnataka, where the veteran actor of some 210 films is a local legend, it has also brought the Kannada-language film and TV industry to a standstill.

With the industry on protest strike and actors trying to raise money in order to release prisoners associated with Veerappan, the region's entertainment industry has reportedly suffered a loss so far of $7m. At least 20 feature films are stuck in various stages of production and all cinemas in the state are closed. In addition, the Kannada TV networks are having to rely on reruns.

On Monday, Karnataka state chief minister S M Krishna reportedly told a news conference in the state capital of Bangalore that his regional Government has met Veepappan's key ransom demand by dropping all charges against the 121 villagers who are now in jail or out on bail as a result of their alleged links to the bandit.

The states of Karnataka and Tamil Nadu, where Rajkumar was snatched with three other people on July 31 from a remote farm, have also established a compensation fund of 50m rupees each for all those identified as victims of alleged police atrocities - another ransom demand.

The concessions came after Krishna had viewed the two videocassettes sent to him by Veerappan. In the cassette, Rajkumar is also heard urging the Kannada-language film industry to resume its activities and for people to remain calm.

The effects of his high-profile abduction are being felt elsewhere in the sub-continent. In Mumbai, home of Bollywood, the Maharashtra government has been asked to beef up the security for Amitabh Bachchan, the Hindi superstar who also anchors India's version of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire. The call came after Bachchan wrote a letter to India's Home Minister stating that he had received threatening calls on his personal mobile phone.

Bachchan had also voiced concern over the safety of his wife Jaya and his son Abhishek, who recently made his debut as an actor. In his letter, Bachchan expressed fears that he might be kidnapped in the same fashion as Rajkumar.