Ashutosh Gowariker has made period films before, including the Oscar-nominated Lagaan and the Mughal extravaganza Jodhaa Akbar. But Khelein Hum Jee Jaan Sey (KHJJS) is his first historical, in the true sense of the word.
This time he’s going strictly by Manini Chatterjee’s book, Do And Die — The Chittagong Uprising: 1930-34. The movie features Abhishek Bachchan as Surja Sen, Deepika Padukone as Kalpana Datta and Sikander Kher as Nirmal Sen.
Gowariker has worked with ace actors such as Aamir Khan, Shah Rukh Khan and Hrithik Roshan, but maintains that Bachchan was his first and only choice for Surja Sen, popularly known as Masterda. Actress Asin was initially considered for Kalpana Datta’s role but in retrospect, the filmmaker believes that Padukone makes a convincing revolutionary.
He points out that the Chittagong uprising spearheaded by the trio was the biggest revolution in India against the British. "We have heard and read of it but few know exactly why it was triggered off and the people behind it. And curiosity has faded over the 63 years since Partition when Chittagong went to East Pakistan and later became a part of independent Bangladesh," Gowariker rues. "Hopefully, after the film’s release, people will be more aware of this long-forgotten chapter in the history of India."
Interestingly, Gowariker went to Bangladesh for a recce of the location of the 1930 uprising. To his shock, nothing from the era has remained. “That’s why I opted for the village Sawantwadi on the Maharashtra-Goa border. It opens into the Arabian Sea like Chittagong does to the Bay of Bengal. The topography is similar, complete with flora and fauna,” he says. “Besides, it was easier to cart a crew of over 300 to Sawantwadi than it would have been to fly them to Chittagong.”
Heritage structures restored
‘We redid the entire palace’
Ashutosh Gowariker had several heritage structures restored so he could film there. “A considerable portion of the palace, where the King and Queen of Sawantwadi still live, was falling to ruins. We had it carefully reconstructed, and rebuilt the garden so the British cantonment could camp out there,” he says.
No doubt there were delays due to bureaucratic red-tapism but the filmmaker says that extra time had been taken into account when planning the production and didn’t knock their schedule haywire. “My team got in touch with the officers at the Archaeological Survey of India and local authorities for the required permissions,” he says. “It took us about four to five months to restore the structures, including a few bungalows. We also worked on the coastal landscape, and made the jungles and hilly terrain more accessible for the film crew.”