If the story is engaging, it can appeal to people across time zones

Written by Sudipta Datta | Updated: Feb 3 2008, 04:54am hrs
He has worn many hats and well. As an actor, Ashutosh Gowarikar left an impression as Abdul in Saaed Mirzas Salim Langde Pe Mat Ro or as Ranjeet in Ketan Mehtas Holi, incidentally his first film, or as Imran in Ketan Mehtas Kabhi Haan Kabhi Na. Then, after a decade of acting in films and TV serials, he switched to the other side of the camera. Though his first two films Pehla Nasha and Baazi saw reasonable success, he truly wowed audiences with his third directorial feature Lagaan. A period film set in the 19th century during the British Raj, it got an Academy Award nomination for Best Foreign Film. Lagaan marked the arrival of a director who was not averse to taking risks and, most importantly, was a stickler for quality. The narrative had to be simple but striking, the performances amazing, the music great all held together by Gowarikars vision. He followed up Lagaans success with another critically acclaimed film Swades, where Shah Rukh Khan gave his best performance (Chak De! India came later). Gowarikar is back with another offering an epic historical romance which took two-and-a-half years to script. The actor-director speaks to Sudipta Datta on the making of Jodhaa Akbar, which releases on February 15, on Hrithik Roshan and Aishwarya Rais amazing chemistry on screen and why things couldnt have been better for Indian cinema. Excerpts:

What prompted you to make a historical romance Isnt the Jodhaa Akbar story a myth

I had never attempted a romantic film before. I wanted to make a pure love story. I began looking for scripts right after Lagaan but contemporary plots werent exciting me. When Haider Ali narrated the script of Jodhaa Akbar to me, I just loved it. This alliance, between a Rajput princess and a Muslim emperor, had never been taken into account. And yet there was this amazing arranged alliance and its essentially a story about how love evolved after marriage. I realised that this was what I was looking for. I began reading up on details while filming Swades (2004). I knew I would have to do a lot of research. But then, the story is engaging, and if the story is compelling, it can leap across many time zones and appeal to people.

Tell us about the Hrithik-Aishwarya pairing You chose them much before Dhoom 2 when they sizzled on screen.

Yes, I picked them much before Dhoom 2 or Krrish. Hrithik looks very regal and his persona is princely, so I thought he would be a natural at playing an eamperor. For Jodhaa, I wanted someone who was beautiful and looked simple and innocent. Looks apart, both are hugely talented, persevering actors and are truly committed to the art of cinema. Their chemistry on screen is incredible and they are great co-actors.

And yet, it must have been very hard work to bring a period film alive.

Oh yes! It started from having to read the script, get the dialogues and delivery right, choose the right costumes, make up, right up to Emperor Akbars moustache.

Are you happy with the outcome

Yes, I am extremely happy. I wouldnt have released it otherwise.

As a director, do you believe in a closed script or do you improvise as you go along

My scripts are just not dialogues. They are full of details like couture design, the positions of actors, camera placements and so forth. For instance, if I want 100 elephants during filming, it will be put forward to the production team a year in advance. It took me two and a half years to get the script right.

You have tied up with Javed Akhtar and A R Rehman for the third time. But it must have been quite challenging to write dialogues and score music for an epic historical romance

It was difficult because none of us had done a historical romance before. There are five situations in the film and I wanted A R Rehman to focus on a melody which would give a feeling of the era and yet appeal to todays generation.

As for dialogues, we have kept it simple. There are no tough Urdu words. We want everyone to understand the film.

What may we expect next from a director whos a risk-taker

I want to try different things. I want to discover cinema, I want to discover story-telling, I want to try different forms. For instance, I may do a thriller or a horror flick or a zany romantic contemporary film next.

Give us a perspective of Bollywood. Are you finding it easy to make films of your choice

Times couldnt have been better for Indian cinema. Ideally, two kinds of cinema the traditional and the experimental must co-exist. Unless theres traditional cinema, the experimental one like Lagaan cannot be. Who would have thought even five years ago that we would see a film like Manorama 6ft Under Its a great time for Indian cinema.