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|May 30, 2001||
Tanmaya Kumar Nanda
New York has seen it all before. And then seen the re-runs too -- to the point where it is blase!
Or so goes the hype.
And then, an Aamir Khan lands up at Raaga music store in Jackson Heights for a promotional event. And a thousand-odd people snarl up the traffic in the area.
Police respond to the hurry call, and help restore order -- of sorts.
Khan was in New York on May 28 and 29 to promote his first home production, Lagaan -- an epic-scale period film set in 1893.
"We built an entire village, in Champaner, Bhuj, as the backdrop and shot the film in six months straight," says Khan.
The film -- Khan's debut as producer -- has been made on a staggering budget of Rs 250 million. Set in a drought-stricken village in central India, it is the story of an uprising against a British regime that indulges in crippling double-taxation during the height of a famine.
"And no, there is no violence, no bloodshed, in the film," says its producer, who also doubles as the male lead.
Given the kind of scale -- and budget -- involved, Khan is leaving nothing to chance. "We have registered the film with the Movie Producers' Association, which means that anyone found making pirated copies of the film will face legal action," he warns.
The film, distributed by Sony Entertainment, is scheduled for a global release on June 15. It will be shown in 40 theatres in the US alone -- testimony to the enormous hold Hindi films have on the Indian diaspora. Besides, five theatres in Canada, plus more in the United Kingdom, Japan, China, Malaysia, Hong Kong, South Africa and the Middle East will showcase the film, which has sub-titled versions in English, French, German, Arabic and even Mandarin.
"It's an Asterix kind of a movie, a fairy tale as it were," says Khan. "It is set against the backdrop of history, and it is the story of one small village taking on the might of an Empire."
As an actor, he is known to be uncompromising. In his debut as producer, he reveals the same mindset. Thus, Khan brought in actors from the UK to play appropriate roles, rather than pick up Anglo-Indian actors from the Hindi cinema stable as is the usual practice. "Anglo-Indians are Anglo-Indians, and Englishmen are Englishmen. The characters demanded Englishmen, so we got our actors from there," he explains.
In terms of marquee value, Khan will carry the film almost entirely on his own shoulders -- most of the cast, both Indian and international, being relatively unknown. "We did not want stars," Khan says.
Thus, the female lead is Gracy Singh, a debutante. Other than Aamir Khan, the only recognisable names of any stature are Raghubir Yadav of Massey Sahib fame, and Raj Zutshi.
Is that a case of double indemnity? Huge budget, unknown cast, and a period film to boot. Too much of a risk to take for a debutant producer? "It was the script, it moved me," says Khan. "I wanted to make the film myself, because I did not trust any other producer with a script and a film like this."
The actor admits that Lagaan is part wish-fulfilment. "I never wanted to be a producer," he says, then flashes a wry grin. "But like someone said, when you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans!"
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