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|February 21, 2000||
'A true actor can play any role'
If we were playing a word game, Kanuria and Bhuj, would immediately be followed by Aamir Khan. Dhoti, waistcoat, turban, earnings, Aamir looks the typical Indian farmer. But he was his usual impressive and lively self while giving Haresh Pandya an exclusive interview on the sets of Lagaan, which also happens to be the versatile actor's first film as a producer. It also happens to be a film where he is the protagonist...
What made you produce this film?
When I first heard Lagaan's script, I was very excited. And I felt I should produce it myself. It's quite an expensive film. But I felt the creative team should have full liberty to make the film well. Similarly, the production manager should have full faith in the creative team. And since I had the faith in Ashutosh (Gowarikar), the director, I decided to produce Lagaan myself.
What is so special about Lagaan?
As far as I am concerned, it is the story and the script that I like most about Lagaan.
Could you elaborate on the story and the script?
Well, the story is placed in the 1890s, during the period of the British Raj. But it is not a true story nor is it based on the freedom movement.
The drought-hit villagers are not in a position to pay the lagaan (tax). The officer in charge of collecting it does not listen to their pleas. In fact, his shenanigans put the villagers in trouble.
The officer orders them to pay the lagaan of two years together. Then, to please his warped sense of humour as it were, he lays a difficult condition before them. If the villagers fulfill the condition, he will excuse them and they will not have to pay anything. But if they fail, they would have to pay a fine in addition to the lagaan.
A young villager takes up the gauntlet of fulfilling the officer's condition. For obvious reasons, I will not disclose the condition. But I will say this -- the condition is a very severe one.
Interestingly, this English officer's sister is sympathetic towards the villagers. Even his superiors feel the officer is being a bit too stringent towards the village.
Maybe you could have shown the same situation without taking recourse to the Raj…
No. All I can say is, you will realise why the time frame is necessary only after seeing Lagaan.
You are cast in the role of the protagonist in Lagaan. Did this happen because you are the producer?
Actually, when Ashutosh narrated the story, he had me in mind for the role. I mean, he wanted me to play the lead. It was to Aamir Khan, the actor, that he had narrated the story and not vice versa. He had approached me as an actor to begin with. I heard the script, I liked it and I was keen to do the film as an actor. And, since I was so interested, so excited about the script, I told him I would like to produce it myself. That's how it happened.
Your character demands that you wear a dhoti for the duration of the film. Are you comfortable in this attire?
Oh, yes, I am very comfortable in a dhoti. This is the first time in my film career that I am wearing one. Not just that, I have even got my ears pierced so that I could actually wear earnings.
The role of a villager, or rather village farmer, has been performed to a nicety in the past by actors like Balraj Sahani, Raaj Kumar, Rajendra Kumar, Sunil Dutt and Manoj Kumar, to name but a few. Do you think you will do justice to the character you are playing in Lagaan?
Why not? A true actor can play any role. Of course, my role in Lagaan is quite different from the ones played by all the stalwarts you just mentioned. My character in this film is that of a villager who is simple, but who knows how to fight for his rights. He is a villager living in the India of the 1890s, mind you.
What difference do you see between Balraj Sahani of Do Bigha Zameen and Aamir Khan of Lagaan?
Quite honestly, I haven't seen Do Bigha Zameen. So I can't really comment on that. But now that you have mentioned his name, I would like to say Balraj Sahani is one of my all-time favourite actors. I think he is one of the finest actors, one of the best actors to be ever seen on the Indian screen. I am a big fan of Balraj Sahani. Even if I can do just 10 per cent of the kind of acting he used to do, it will be an achievement.
Why did you decide to base Lagaan in Kutch?
I know Bhuj in particular is a border area. My film has nothing to do with a border area.
Actually, we needed a slightly dry location because, as per the script, it has not rained in the village for some years. And it is an agricultural village. Bhuj has got that dry look.
Plus, I was looking for the ideal place to tell this tale, which is based in the 1890s when there was no electricity, no telephone poles, no vehicles. My film talks about a drought-affected village of that particular era. It seems that Kutch, today, is faced with the same sort of problem. So, in a way, I am expressing the feelings of the drought-hit people of Kutch as well.
Of course, unlike the Raj, today's government is our own. I believe the villagers today do not have to face the kind of trouble that was inflicted on them by the English in those days. But when the rain is delayed, I think the farmer faces more or less the same problems.
Do tell us what you think of this interview
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