'I had an inkling Lagaan would work in a big way'
After his first two films (Pehla Nasha and Baazi) bombed at the box office, director Ashutosh Gowariker took a five-year break and wrote a script that was rejected outright by many bigwigs in the film industry. Finally, Aamir Khan decided to give it a shot, and now, we are celebrating 10 years of its undoubted success.
Yes, we're talking about the Oscar-nominated blockbuster, Lagaan. After chasing the director for a month, Sonil Dedhia and Abhishek Mande finally caught up with Gowariker.
Lagaan and Gadar released on the same day and both had a patriotic theme, but Lagaan was not jingoistic like Gadar. Was it a conscious effort to draw a line between being patriotic and being jingoistic?
The basic plot of Lagaan is this group of people who are oppressed and have no desire to fight against anything because they are just trying to survive. In that scenario when they have to pay the lagaan, the only way they can retaliate is in a non-violent way. Bhuvan, the protagonist, thought winning a game of cricket was a very subtle way of trying to achieve the goal. When you are showing this, you cannot have jingoism.
The film is not about cricket. It's about society. The emotional drive of the film is very strong and it's reflected in Bhuvan's saying, "Don't think this is a game of cricket. It's a game of survival." This is the driving force of the movie.
Image: Ashutosh Gowariker with Aamir Khan
Photographs: Hitesh Harisinghani/Rediff.com
'The oppressed standing up to oppressor touched a chord with audiences'
I needed a sport which has planning in it, which is dependent on weather and where within the team there are three different armies -- the batsman, the bowlers and the fielders. All the characters had different occupations and these were adapted to the sport. It could as well have been football, but that wouldn't have been as interesting as cricket because it has only one target -- to hit the goal.
Was the cricket the reason the movie was so successful all over the world?
I think the movie clicked because people wanted to see how the characters were going to solve such a huge task. The oppressed standing against the oppressor is a universal theme. At some point of time every nation has gone through this situation, so that connected audiences to the movie. I remember that at the screening at the Locarno film festival, 8,000 people were watching the film and I was worried that none of them had any clue about cricket.
I introduced the character of Ram Singh, the interpreter, because he was like a rule book of cricket who was explaining things to people who didn't know anything, or had little knowledge, about the sport.
Image: A still from Lagaan
'Lagaan's success infused me with a different kind of confidence'
How did you evolve as a filmmaker and storyteller after Lagaan?
When Lagaan succeeded it infused me with a different kind of confidence and courage. It was a film that almost didn't get made and once it was made, the audience accepted it so it proved that audiences were ready for a different kind of cinema. It gave me the confidence to make movies like Swades, Jodhaa Akbar, What's Your Raashee. My films are different in content and some might work and some won't.
Were you at any point of time unsure about its success?
The day I wrote the script I had an inkling that it would work in a big way. It was a Eureka! moment. When I hit upon the idea I knew I had something that was interesting and different. The important part was to get the right people on board. The day Aamir gave his nod as an actor and later as a producer, I knew that half my battle is won because I knew he would not compromise on any grounds.
So be it art direction, cinematography or costume design we had a fabulous team that came together.
Even in post-production there were was Saluja (the editor) or Rahman (who did the background score). So I was very excitedly finishing the film and never had a thought whether it would work or not.
Image: A still from Lagaan
'I knew I'd won half the battle when Aamir came onboard'
Is Lagaan the film you would like to be known for?
It would be one of them. When you make a movie, you cannot plan whether it is going to be successful or not. I would love to be remembered for What's Your Rashee and Khelein Hum Je Jaan Se too.
Can you describe the first day of shooting?
(Laughs) It took us quite a few takes to finalise it. It was a very tricky shot because the camera was on the crane, and it had to come off the ground and on Suhasini Mulay's head. The crane was faulty because of the wind so it was the first taste of what to expect. It was a very amazing moment for me. It was the first scene of the script I had written.
What was it like promoting a film 10 years ago?
When you're promoting a movie you do the same things in every generation. What increases or what gets added on is the numerous media vehicles. We didn't have so many news channels; we didn't have so much of international channels. So our promotional docket was the same. Maybe it was the same during Mother India. But the media increased!
What would you say were your five greatest learnings from Lagaan?
I can't quantify them
If you were to, what would they be?
(It would be) the aspect of courage (and) the aspect of willing to try new and different things.
Image: Movie poster of Lagaan