‘We showcased India at its best’

Published On: 2016-07-02

Author: Ruma Singh

Media Link:

‘We showcased India at its best’


Source: TNN 

Date: 20 January 2008 


His career has spanned 22 years and 96 films, but it’s his latest historical, Jodhaa-Akbar that is exciting art director Nitin Desai like no other. For starters, historical films are his forte, he says. Secondly, the quantity of research he’s put into this film is unparalleled, he says.


The veteran of historicals like Lagaan, Mangal Pandey: The Rising, 1942 A Love Story, and The Legend of Bhagat Singh puts it down to the rapport he shares with Jodhaa-Akbar director Ashutosh Gowarikar. “We’ve had a great rapport since Pehla Nasha,” says Desai, “He told me he wanted to make this epic historical a year-and-a-half ago. I’ve been working on it since.”


Even for Desai, this was a blockbuster on a massive scale and his brief included everything from detailing on weaponry for the mammoth war scenes to getting the architecture of the time right. “There wasn’t much information apart from miniature paintings and the Akbarnama,” he says, “I had to construct the Agra Fort, Amer Fort, the palace in Rajasthan — all in detail. I spent a week in Jaipur and two weeks in Agra taking measurements as everything had to be built to scale. I visited museums, the Asiatic Library, the forts themselves — Amer exists today, but has changed considerably from Akbar’s era as subsequent rulers added to the fort’s structure.”


Desai’s final creation was a 1600 ft by 600 ft scale model of the Agra Fort, totally authentic externally and internally. “It’s the biggest I have made,” he says. A bigger responsibility was to get the grandeur and scale right. For example, the Dussera scene in Jaipur, in which the palace is bedecked with flowers, full of courtiers dressed in colourful traditional garments; Jodhaa’s chamber, overlooking the sprawling gardens; Jodhaa’s first grand entrance into the Agra Fort atop an elephant, and the series of magnificent gates she rides through; her 240 ft by 60 ft chambers; her temple — all conveyed in painstaking detail. “I enjoyed working on this,” he says.


Desai’s favourite scene is a song picturised on Hrithik, a celebration of his new name of ‘Akbar’ from his earlier Jalaluddin. “We had 600 dancers, a crowd of 1,200 — all dressed perfectly, the song was spectacular. We showcased Indian culture at his best,” Desai says. “At the Cannes and Berlin Film Festivals, the visual beauty of the production was really appreciated.”


Besides authenticity, practicality was also important. For the war scenes, three versions of every weapon were made — in metal for close-ups, and fibre and rubber for the long shots. “We didn’t want any accidents or injuries during the shooting and I’m happy there were none. Ashutosh is very methodical so everything was in place.” Desai’s productions team was also huge: 20 key people, 68 designers, 250 for construction and 650 more workers to put everything together. “We have so much talent in India that a film this scale becomes possible. In real life, it all took 33 years. I got three months! I’m so proud of our technical expertise. When I visit Los Angeles, Oscar-winning designers tell me they are envious of our Indian setups, our talent, which makes productions like this possible. Their budgets are 10 times ours yet they can’t achieve our artistry. They all want to come and work in India.”


So does this mean that Jodhaa-Akbar will have more than a fair shot at the Oscars? “Certainly,” says Desai, “It’s a film on an international scale and vision and Indian culture comes through beautifully. Ashutosh Gowarikar is experienced — he’s been nominated before with Lagaan. This film will definitely be nominated — even independently — in all categories — cinematography, music, costume as well.”