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Ward meditates on ‘Buddha’

Oscar-winning screenwriter to pen family pic

David S. Ward, Oscar-winning scripter of “The Sting,” “Milagro Beanfield War” and “Sleepless in Seattle,” has signed up to pen “Buddha,” the big-budget family production that will mark the filmmaking debut of Beverly Hills-based Indian billionaire Dr. B.K. Modi.

The $120 million English-language pic is based on “Old Path White Clouds,” the epic novel that has made an international star of its author, the Vietnamese monk Thich Nhat Hanh.

Michel Shane and Anthony Romano (“I Robot,” “Catch Me If You Can”) will produce through their Hand Picked Films on behalf of Modi’s M Pictures.

“Story will be told through the eyes of the water buffalo boy. It needs to be clear that this is an interpretation, not a direct vision of Buddha,” Shane said earlier this year.

Since bowing the concept at Cannes in May, Indian helmer Shekhar Kapur is no longer attached to the picture.

Hand Picked foresees production next year and delivery for May 2008. Pic will likely lense in the U.S., Japan, China, Thailand and India.

Modi, whose personal wealth is said to exceed $2 billion, is bankrolling development and pre-production. Shane and Romano will package the project for financial partners and studio or indie distribs.

Movie has the blessing of the Dalai Lama, who recently marked the fifth anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks in New York by hosting a luncheon at the Beverly Hills Peninsular Hotel with Modi.

(Also in the works is a $6 million indie rival “Buddha,” to be directed by “Samsara” and “Valley of Flowers” helmer Pan Nalin.)

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