'Working with Hrithik and Aishwarya was terrific'

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'Working with Hrithik and Aishwarya was terrific'



Source: Rediff 

Date: Feb 13, 2008 



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 don?t 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. 



Was it always going to be Hrithik Roshan and Aishwarya Rai for the roles of Akbar and Jodhaa? 


Yeah, from day one. When I heard the story for the first time, the images that came to my mind was what Akbar would look like, a warrior-like figure of Turkish background. You know, sharp nose, sharp features. For Jodhaa I wanted someone who was very beautiful in a very simple way. Both Hrithik and Aishwarya, I've been an admirer of theirs from their first films. I feel in Kaho Naa... Pyaar Hai, Hrithik was phenomenal. In his very first film he did a double role, which is unheard of. Even later when he did Koi... Mil Gaya, he played the character of Rohit which he did brilliantly. In Krrish also he played three different kinds of roles. I knew he is an actor who is desirous of taking up challenges. Aishwarya, while doing mainstream films, has been attempting really different kind of stuff -- Choker Bali or Shabd. So this film needed actors who could lend and bring their talent and their personas. Hrithik and Aishwarya were my immediate first choices. 



Would you say personality above everything else contributed to the casting of these two actors? 


No, it can't be only personality. It is a combination of personality and acting capability. Also, the capacity to portray a character. Because, after all, this is not Bhuvan (Aamir Khan's role in Lagaan), this is not Mohan Bhargav (Shah Rukh Khan's role in Swades). These are two characters whom everyone knows about and has heard about. So the depiction had to be very correct. I think both of them had to have the correct balance of talent and persona that was necessary. 



What was it like working with them? 


Superb. It was terrific. Right from the script reading sessions, their inputs of time by way of you know learning the language -- the Urdu diction, especially for Hrithik -- or the horse riding and sword fighting. There's a lot of preparation that went into, especially for Hrithik. 



How much time would you say they spent on preparing for their roles as Jodhaa and Akbar? 


About three months before we could start. 



Every day? 


Yeah, yeah. 



This is the first time you are working with an actress of prominence. Does that mean that for the first time since Lagaan and Swades, the actress will have as prominent a role in the film as your male protagonist? 


Since it is called Jodhaa Akbar, they are two equal parts. I thought it is important to have two established faces, two stars, to play those parts. 



So many people dismiss Aishwarya as a mannequin who can't act. Would you say with some confidence that Jodhaa Akbar will establish her as an actress of serious substance? 


First of all, I don't agree that till now whatever performances she has done have not been good. I think there have been stellar performances. Certain films may have required a portrayal with lesser acting opportunity, so probably she would look like a mannequin. In Jodhaa Akbar, she is fantastic as Jodhaa. Her performance is incredible. If anyone has any doubts about the way she performs, I think they will love her in this film. 



What is the thing that surprised you most about Aishwarya? 


I think the sincerity of the emotion, the honesty of the emotion and the speed of execution of the shot. She is not a method actress. She is not someone who when she has to do a particular scene she needs to internalise it. Her method is slightly different. You mean, she was not Aamir Khan :) Every actor has got his own method of acting and hers was based on the information that she had. She would execute it with great simplicity and sincerity of emotion. I was quite amazed at that. 



And what surprised you about Hrithik as an actor? Was he as generous with his suggestions like your two other lead actors (Aamir and Shah Rukh) must have been? 


Oh yeah. I think to be able to adapt to a character is one thing. But to be able to adapt yourself and align yourself to a character that probably existed and do it with responsibility because you are, after all, depicting a Mughal emperor that everyone knows about, I think that is a very tough thing to do. The methodology with which he approached the character is what really startled me. 



How do you think Hrithik will compare to the Akbar that we all know from cinema, the awesome figure of Prithviraj Kapoor with his impressive voice and his personality. 


There's a lot of difference between the two. Prithviraj Kapoor, when he played Akbar, he was supposed to be 55-60 years old. Hrithik is playing Akbar at a very young age. So there isn't a comparison between the two. It is almost a comparison like between what (Robert) de Niro did and (Marlon) Brando did in the two Godfathers, one and two. They are two different phases (in Akbar's life). 



But there will be the inevitable comparison. 


Yeah, but that doesn't worry me at all. I think Hrithik is brilliant. 



Apart from Farhan Akhtar, you are the only director who has worked with Aamir, Shah Rukh and Hrithik. What are these three guys like? Aamir and you acted together (in Holi). Shah Rukh and you acted (in the television serial Circus). You were buddies with them. Hrithik is younger, someone you didn't really know... 


I would say all three have been fantastic. All three have made the films much more believable than what they were on paper just by their sheer performances. It is not about the performances alone. It is about how he (the lead actor) merges with the entire cast, how he translates himself to give and take with the co-actors. I think the three characters were very tough characters. Mohan (Swades) was very tough. Bhuvan (Lagaan) was also extremely tough as a character. And Akbar too is. So if you ask me, I have admiration for all three of them. 



What defines each of them as a performer? 


Aamir, I would say, has the Method approach. He is methodical in approaching his character and his acting. Shah Rukh, I would say, is someone who is much more instinctively spontaneous. You can't make Aamir spontaneous and you can't make Shah Rukh methodical. You can't interchange their attitudes because they have self developed, they understand themselves too well. Hrithik, I would say, is a blend of the two of them. Because there are times when he would approach a scene with a Method approach in which he was really working at it. And there are scenes in which he would just come and approach it completely with spontaneity. In both cases what was tough was the Urdu, because that was a language in which he had to be comfortable in. So his preparation would keep oscillating between the methodic approach and the spontaneous, depending of what kind of scene it was. 



And is it deliberate that you surround your main actors with an ensemble cast so that their characters become more believable? 


I am glad you noticed that. Yeah, I've always tried to do that. 



I notice between the credits of Swades and Jodhaa Akbar, there are only two actors who you have repeated: Rajesh Vivek and Vishwas Arora. All the other actors are new. 


I think the world that you are creating can only become believable if you don't know two things: The people (the actors) and the landscape. That's why the landscape is very important and so are the faces. Because only when that is new do you feel that you've entered a new world. It is the world that as an audience you don't know. So if I had Champaner in Lagaan or if I had Charanpur in Swades, here I had 16th century Agra and Amer. It was definitely another world. If it needed Hrithik and Aishwarya's known stardom for it to become more vulnerable and more believable, then they had to be surrounded by people whom we don't know. Also to make believe you need landscape that has not been seen. That's what I like doing.






Gowariker clears the air on Jodhaa Akbar



Source: CNN IBN 

By: Rajeev Masand 



Mumbai: Jodhaa-Akbar, the Rs 40-crore period film, starring Hrithik Roshan and Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, releases this Friday. And for director Ashutosh Gowariker, it has clearly been a labour of love. CNN-IBN's Entertainment Editor, Rajeev Masand caught up with him in an exclusive interview. 



Rajeev Masand: How does the director of films like Lagaan and Swades feels before the release of his new film, which is as ambitious if not more, in terms of scale budget stars as the previous two films? 


Ashutosh Gowariker: I'm feeling anticipated excitment, I'm really looking forward to the audience's reaction to the film and I'am just counting days now.



Rajeev Masand: How do you respond to the controversy that has been brewing about the alleged historical inacuracy of the plot of Jodhaa Akbar?


Ashutosh Gowariker: Every historian has a different account of the same story, so you have one historian calling Jodhaa as Zarkha bai, and another one calling her by the name of Manmati, some call her Shahi bai, and yet another calls her Jia rani. Since the common man today has heard of Jodhaa, I thought that it is best to use that name and make the film. That is why I did not call the film, Zarkha Akbar or Manmati Akbar. 



Rajeev Masand: What is the final running time of the film? 


Ashutosh Gowariker: It's a little above three hours. 



Rajeev Masand: Do you often find yourself being asked, why you make such long film? 


Ashutosh Gowariker: There is a reason I make long films, if one is making a comedy, two hours are enough for it or if one is making a murder mystery , two hours are enough for it as well. But whenever one makes a drama, drama by the genre definition itself demands more time.