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|September 11, 2001||
Tanmaya Kumar Nanda in New York
Once upon a time, a young boy would look on, fascinated, as his teacher enacted one of the bloodiest battles in the history of India, about a great king.
He wondered why a great warrior gave up fighting. As he grew older, his interest turned to other things. But the story of that great king stayed with him.
That boy is Santosh Sivan, director of the critically-acclaimed film Terrorist. And the king was Emperor Asoka, one of the greatest kings India has known, whose bloody conquest of Kalinga moved him so much that he gave up all forms of violence and became a Buddhist.
"For years, I wondered what drove this man, what made him make the choices he did," said Sivan at a press conference held Saturday at the Sony Building in Manhattan, New York, to release the music of his epic period film, Asoka, which releases October 26.
"After lot of research, I decided to make a film on the king. Also, all we know about him is after the war. No one has talked about the pre-war period."
Also present at the press conference was Shah Rukh Khan himself, a far cry from the long-haired, bare-bodied king, in a brown leather jacket and neat haircut. "Santosh first told me about the film atop a train, when we were shooting Chaiyya chaiyya for Dil Se," laughs Khan.
"He spoke in Malayalam; I speak Hindi -- I didn't understand a word of what he said. But I said 'Yes'.
"Later, Juhi (Chawla, Khan's business partner in their production house, Dreamz Unlimited) made sense of it and told me that he had this dream of making a film on Asoka."
Like any other Hindi film, Asoka also has a love angle, revolving around Kaurwaki, a girl from the fishermen community in Kalinga (modern Orissa), and about whom there are legends. But go looking for historical accuracy in the film. "I did not want to make a bio-pic, documentary, or docu-drama," says Sivan, matter-of-factly.
"The story is based more on myths and legends of Asoka from third century in Orissa and Bihar, combined with Buddhist legends of Asoka in Orissa. In fact, until 1915, we didn't even know Asoka's name, since the edicts were deciphered only then."
Shot mostly on location, the film promises to be a big screen experience. In fact, even the changes in weather are natural, from the rains to the mist.
Being a period film, probably the only one (as opposed to historicals) after Razia Sultan, Asoka has a tall order. "We wanted the film to appeal to the younger audience, which is why the look and style of the film is modernistic," says Khan.
Sivan adds: "So far, we have depended too much on sets and symmetry in our periods, which makes them gaudy. I didn't want that kind of a look."
Anu Malik's music has an earthy feel to it, reflecting the Mauryan times. Sivan said the music element would also be more acceptable to Western audiences, especially since it was set way back in time. "A song-and-dance routine can be difficult to accept in a modern film, but it's easier in a period film. Besides, music and songs have always been part of our heritage."
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