Ashutosh Gowariker is lying on his back in the editing suite at his office in suburban Mumbai when rediff.com's Nikhil Lakshman met him for this interview. Even though he has not been a practicising actor for over 15 years, the director retains some of the actor's vanity, declining rediff.com Creative Director Dominic Xavier's request to shoot photographs, even forbidding close-ups of his animated, charming countenance.
Gowariker has blamed his back injury in one interview for the delayed release of his epic Jodhaa Akbar. The film, which was to have released late last year, will now hit screens worldwide February 15, his birthday. Will the film evoke the kind of response his last two films, Lagaan and Swades did? The director certainly thinks so.
Snatches from an hour-long conversation:
Why is there such a negative feeling in the film industry about your film? Is this sentiment spawned by jealousy, by spite or by the calculation that historical films don't do well at the box office?
I think it is primarily because of the norm that historicals are a more riskier genre than any other genre. Quite simply because there's a feeling that today's audiences are not interested in watching a story of a bygone era. Well, I don't agree because I think audiences constantly want to see something new, something different. You know if they see a comedy on a Friday then next Friday they want to see a thriller, they want to see a family drama. I mean, their tastes are constantly changing.
What an audience wants, I think, is a good story well told. So when I am thinking of making a 16th century story like Jodhaa Akbar, I am thinking if it is a romance and if it is well told, they will like it. But yeah, the perception outside is very different because the norm is that historicals donít work. So I hope we can change that.
How confident are you personally about the film's prospects at the box office?
Oh, I am very confident. First of all, it is an epic romance between Jodhaa and Akbar and it is from the ages of 13 to 28. It is essentially a love story and a youthful love story as opposed to the perception that people have about a mature Akbar, which is not the case. I think the film will be appreciated. I hope so.
Do you have a sense that after Jodhaa Akbar you have evolved further as a filmmaker?
My evolution as a filmmaker starts and ends with that particular film. Because you know from the time I write the story, my emotion about a particular story, the excitement, I must feel that same emotion when I see the finished product. I felt it in Lagaan, I felt it in Swades. And I felt it in this film also.
My experience that gets added on with every film definitely helps on the next one. But you know all rules get reset to zero when I choose a new script because that new script has got its own permutations and combinations of challenges and problems and hurdles about the entire moviemaking process.
For me, Jodhaa Akbar has been an enriching experience. I don't know how time has flown.
What were the distinct challenges on this film?
For me, the most challenging part was depicting their romance on screen. Because in history we know that Akbar existed and we know that Jodhaa existed and we know there is an Agra fort, which exists today, we know the alliances between the Rajputs and the Mughals. These are milestones, facts that we know.
What we don't know is how did this alliance come about? What happened between the two of them in the confines of their chamber, the harem? What were their personal moments like? There is nothing written about this. So I had to create all of these by imagination. And when I say imagination, imagination, which is adapted from several history books.
To create that aspect on screen has been the most challenging. Scale and grandeur and budgets, well, I think that comes with the Mughal period. That is a given, you can't escape it. But creating what is not written about was the challenge.
How did this concept occur to you? What was the inspiration?
This story is by Haider Ali, who has been my friend and co-actor.
When he narrated it to me, what I was immediately attracted to was that here is a story about two people that lived which we always took for granted. The only other place we have seen them closely is in Mughal-e-Azam. In that movie we take for granted that they are married. In that film the focus is on the love of Salim and Anarkali. How this marriage (between Jodhaa and Akbar) came about was what fascinated me.
450 years ago, why would a Hindu Rajput princess be married off to a Mughal emperor? I have never made a love story per se. Lagaan had elements of romance in it, Swades had elements of romance in it, but they won't be called romantic movies. Here was a chance for me to make a love story set in another era, set in another time zone in which there is so much scope to create within that four walls of history what happened between the two. I found myself saying yes, but I told Haidarbhai that we must wait, work on it and probably make it after Swades.
So history is incidental in this film? It is not central.
It is not central, but it is not incidental either.
Also read: Making Jodhaa Akbar visually stunning