'My images of Akbar and Jodhaa are from the ACK'

Published On: 2016-07-10

Author: Piyush Roy

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‘My images of Akbar and Jodhaa are from the Amar Chitra Katha’


Source: Screen India 

Date: January 24, 2008 


From unsuccessful thrillers in the ‘90s he moved to the classic and Oscar terrain with Lagaan. He then won accolades for another issue-based film, Swades. Ashutosh Gowariker has now moved on - by moving back in time to Mughal history 


Was the success of Lagaan a trigger for attempting another period drama? What inspired you to tell the love story of Akbar and Jodhaa Bai? 

Right after Lagaan, I already had a script of an NRI coming and discovering India, but while I was working on Swades, my friend and the writer of Jodhaa Akbar, Haidar Ali, gave me this story about a Rajput princess and a Mughal emperor and my immediate reaction was wondering how come no one ever thought of making it into a film. We always take Jodhaa’s and Akbar's marriage for granted and say that Jahangir was born to them and then came Shah Jahan and so on. We always discuss the dynasty, the lineage, but never as to how they got married. I found that very fascinating. For quite some time, I wanted to make a film in the love story genre and was looking for contemporary love stories that were around me at that point of time but wasn't finding the right kind of hook that interested me. But when the story of Jodhaa Akbar came about, I thought why not try and attempt it? While choosing a character from history, its relevance and the story you are telling around him becomes the key. My sole attraction in this story was how these two cultures and religions came together 450 years ago, and what must have happened. I based all my beliefs only on this and made the film. The added attraction for me was that it was about Akbar. There are only two emperors in India who we call 'great' - Ashoka and Akbar. No one's born great, Babur started the Mughal dynasty, but we don't call him or even Shah Jahan, who made the Taj Mahal, great. Why is only Akbar termed great? What did he do? These questions attracted me to the topic, but I told Haidar that it was too vast and huge a subject to even put on paper and we need time. So while making Swades, we simultaneously worked on its screenplay and that's how the film came about. 


Historical biopics cannot do without an element of fiction that's necessary for making for compelling celluloid telling. What have been your factual sources and what are the fictional liberties you have allowed yourself in telling this story? What is the fact-fiction ratio in Jodhaa Akbar? 

I have based the entire story, its happenings and situations on the screenplay. Its pillars are facts like king Bharmal's daughter Jodhaa was married to the Mughal emperor Akbar, and then Jahangir was born. However, what happened in their chamber or between the two of them in their privacy, their evenings and their days is not written about anywhere. There' a gap there, though at the same time we have accounts of what kind of lifestyles the Rajputs and the Mughals had, which is generic. So I have used information which is generic and pieced together my story which we can say is 70 per cent imagination and 30 per cent history. For facts I referred to Abul Fazl's Ain-i-Akbari and Akbarnama, Badayuni's Muntakhab al-Tawarikh and a whole lot of Rajput history and historians like Jadunath Sarkar's A History Of Jaipur and The Kachhawas Under Akbar apart from meeting professors like Irfan Habib sahab and Shireen Moosvi of the Aligarh Muslim University, who are topnotch historians on Akbar. I also met the Jaipur royalty and discussed the script with them before starting the film because Jodhaa was from that family. I attended their rituals and took inputs to grasp the nuances around the protocol and behaviour of the royalty, which is most important while tackling such a subject. 


Unlike Hollywood, the historical biopic as a genre hasn't been quite popular in India in recent times. What are the impediments against tackling one? 

It's not that we have not been making historicals. One of the main reasons why films set in a different time zone don't get made is that they are expensive. Also for the director and writers there is too much of work to be done before you can take a single shot. Your time input has to be at least two years. Either you don't have the time to do that or don't have the goss or the money. Yet, I think we have a historical coming in every three-four years, and lot of period films are getting made like Mangal Pandey, the films on Bhagat Singh, Bose and Savarkar and Akbar Khan's Taj Mahal. 


Jodhaa Akbar looks contemporary in its treatment, but there are certain givens that come with a historical. How different is your take from the cult, classic historical on Akbar, Mughal-e-Azam? Did the question of comparisons ever bother you? 

I find it difficult to evaluate or describe, because how contemporary a film can be is something that is born out of its maker's personality. I can't pinpoint how contemporary my Jodhaa Akbar will be, but even Lagaan in spite of being a period film, had a certain modernity to it, which is bound to happen because it's us. Mughal-e-Azam was made at in the 1960s, when literature in cinema was given a very high platform, when theatre was still evolving and very uplifting and if you were not from theatre, you would not get a break in movies. The gap between theatre and films then was much lesser. So the styles of acting and writing were just shifting from the stage to films which is why the film had a more literary, theatrical and grandiose kind of treatment. But the people making Jodhaa Akbar are of a different set and generation. We don't want to ape anybody and have approached our script with all its honesty; so when you see the Agra fort or go to Jodhaa's chamber, there's a particular size to it that is true to the original. We have not created anything larger than required, just because you want to be bigger for the sake of bigness. That's not the focus in this film, so we have tried to stay true to how much we could within the scope of our film. As regards comparisons, our story looks at Akbar from the age of 13 to 28. So it's a youthful romance and its focus is far removed from Anarkali, Taj Mahal or any of these historicals. I didn't think much about any kind of comparison as it's neither a remake of any era nor do many know about this relationship. It stands on its own anyway. 


What made you cast Hrithik Roshan and Aishwarya Rai in the lead? Were they your first choices? 

Two names that immediately came to my mind on hearing the story were that of Hrithik and Aishwarya. At that point of time, it was just a wish-list, but I was fortunate that I landed up getting my wish-list to say yes to the film. I think I am fortunate to have two big stars, who have a face value that could make the project much more attractive, and hence got me little more money to spend, though the bottomline is the story you are telling. Moreover, you can't make films of this nature, unless they are backed by actors, stars and technicians of a certain merit. It's not just about the money, but also about getting the right team - Nitin Desai (sets), Kiran Deohans (photography), Neeta Lulla (costumes) and each and every member of the crew. When they back you up, then everything starts falling into place. The costumes start looking beautiful, the sets looks grand, the photography is breathtaking. 


How important was Hrithik or Aishwarya's resemblance to the original characters, or was star value the only criteria? 

They were also my first choices because they are superb actors and their physical attributes lend themselves very well to the looks of a comic book emperor and a princess. My images of Akbar and Jodhaa are from the Amar Chitra Katha and like those portrayals - Hrithik is physically very strong and has princely looks, while Aishwarya is the quintessential princess. As regards historical resemblance, my belief is that, it doesn't matter. Ben Kingsley is far removed from the Gandhi you see in all his photographs, nor does Brad Pitt match the mythical depictions of Achilles. The latest example are the three films on Bhagat Singh that released with Ajay Devgan, Bobby Deol and Sonu Sood, each playing the young martyr though the real Bhagat Singh neither looked nor was in the age group of the three actors. At certain times you need a face to a historical character that will do justice to the character and take it a little ahead by making it more palatable and believable. 


Punam S Sinha seems to be one of the most unlikeliest debutants in your cast. How did you think of her and convince her to come on-screen after three decades? Which are the other significant characters to watch out for? 

She has an extremely charming and regal personality and has a body language, which is very elegant. While casting, I was always telling that I need someone looking like Punam Sinha for the role of Akbar's mother, but I wasn't getting anyone. So I decided to ask her instead, and she was pleasantly surprised. But she said that I first take Shatruji's permission and thankfully both liked the role and said yes. As Hamida Banu, an empress from Turkey, she very easily makes an impact with very few words. Sonu Sood, who plays Jodhaa's cousin brother, Sujamal, has an interesting brother-sister track going between the two. He dotes on his sister and is supportive of her when there is objection to the marriage. Ila Arunji who's playing Maham Anga, Akbar's extremely possessive and protective wet nurse, is another significant character. 


The film has an eclectic period track which has you team up for the third time with AR Rahman (music) and Javed Akhtar (lyrics). What was your brief for the film's music and any favourite song? 

It's the first time that Rahman and Javed sahab have done a film set in the Mughal era, so we did have our discussions as to how to approach it. We essentially wanted to create sounds and melodies that would have a researched backdrop of that period, but would be contemporary in their treatment and overall appeal as we wanted the songs to depict that past and carry the scene forward, and yet appeal to today's generation by not getting archaic. Also the language we wanted to use was to just give a hint of Urdu and be very simple. Even in the script and dialogues, any word that I don't understand is not in the film and my Urdu is very limited. It doesn't interest me to impress anyone with how much Urdu I know because then it becomes a personal film. I want it to stay as lucid and simple to the layman as possible. All the songs are close to my heart, but the song that's most representative of the film is Kehno ke jashne-bahara because it has romance and is the leading song of the film.