Ashutosh Gowariker: Filmmakers and writers should go out and make what they believe in
When 'Jodhaa Akbar' released on this day in 2008, it was termed a modern masterpiece that would be remembered for years to come. Rightly so. Ten years after the historical hit the screens, it is still talked about for its visual treatment — the opulence, breathtaking battle sequences and the romance between the lead pair Aishwarya Rai Bachchanand Hrithik Roshan that lit up the screen. The man behind it all, filmmaker Ashutosh Gowariker, has reasons to be proud. A decade later, the filmmaker still gets emotional while talking about his historical romance, and in a chat with Bombay Times, he reminisces the days of filming his dream project. He also shares his thoughts on the challenges of making a historical and why the recent 'Padmaavat' controversy should not dissuade makers from telling a story that they want to.
Excerpts from a chat with Ashutosh Gowariker...
You’ve always said that 'Jodhaa Akbar' is a very special film for you. What makes it so special?
It’s my first historical; before that I had made a period film, 'Lagaan' (2001). I knew the challenges were many — it would be compared to some great historicals of the 1960s and there would be other comparisons as well. But I wanted to make a film with religious tolerance as the theme, and I wanted to tell that story through Jodha and Akbar. Even after all these years, the film is very important to me. What is exhilarating is that it is still appealing to the audiences — the newer audiences as well — not just in India, but overseas, too. Even now every year, it gets invited to film festivals and is showcased in their special sections. You made a beautiful film which was 3 hours 40 minutes long, but eventually, you had to trim it down to 3 hours 20 minutes. How difficult was that given how passionately you felt about the subject?
Well, I must admit that it was tough (laughs). When it is a dramatic story, there is so much drama, so many different character graphs, and other character arcs that need to be justified. In a film like this especially, you have a lot of mannerisms of that era, where a person visiting the emperor would bow down and salute thrice. That needed to be shown, because if you don’t show it, then you haven’t entered that world. All these nuances added to the film’s length, and the scissors fell on the character of Birbal. There were two scenes of Birbal, which went out of the film and later, we included them in the DVD as the deleted scenes. The final film was 3 hour 20 minutes... I’m not very proud of the length, but at least I could bring it down to that. With so many years having passed, would you have done it any differently now? Would you give the film a tighter edit?
No, it would have been the same. 'Jodhaa Akbar' saw protests in 2008 and over the years, protests of such nature seem to have become the order of the day. With the recent 'Padmaavat' controversy, do you think filmmakers like you will be dissuaded from making historicals?
Not at all. It doesn’t have to be a historical; I might make a contemporary film and have a social issue that I want to discuss and raise questions about. That can get into controversy, too. Controversy is not just limited to historicals. Anything which is issue-driven can face this. I feel filmmakers and writers should go out and make what they believe in. Otherwise, we will cease to be creative. Any art or cinema needs to grow. A thought needs to be taken ahead. The thought is the biggest thing. Thinking minds mulling over society, mulling over life are the ones who are able to create images or words in literature. For art, literature or cinema to grow, we need to have the freedom to tell what we want to. Talking about historicals, they are not easy to make. What was the most difficult part about making 'Jodhaa Akbar'?
When you delve into history, you will find that only some facts are written in books. You then have to fill in the blanks. When you are filling those blanks, there is a huge responsibility, because you have to imagine it with great care and try and see how you can tell the story, while setting it in that time period. Also, when it’s history, everyone wants to know exactly what happened. If you make a mistake, you will get criticised. These are the challenges, but it’s all in the preparation. With every film I make, I do as much preparation as I can to fine-tune the details. In the case of 'Jodhaa Akbar', the credit goes to the entire team that came together to create something that has found universal appeal. Were Hrithik Roshan and Aishwarya Rai Bachchan your first choices to play Akbar and Jodhaa?
Absolutely! I feel very fortunate that I thought of them and was able to cast them for it. I remember that 'Dhoom 2' had released then, and everyone knew how they worked well on screen. It gave us an additional thrust and confidence. For audiences, it was interesting to see them as Jodha and Akbar. For me, Hrithik is the new-age emperor. Aishwarya too, now holds the tag of Jodha. We have seen her play so many parts, but never a princess. Here she plays both, a princess and an empress.
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