'I ’m like an island, I work in isolation. I come out and talk to people only when my film is ready for release, like now,” says film maker J P Dutta when I meet him at his office on Sunday for a chat on his forthcoming costume drama, Umrao Jaan.
He’s playing out his taskmaster image when he warns us: “Please don’t ask me the same questions that most journalists ask — it just makes the interview boring and doesn’t serve any purpose”. Some time into the interview he relaxes, even cracking a few jokes along the way.
In a season of effects-laden remakes of classics, Dutta has set his Umrao Jaan in the same era as the original novel by Mirza Mohammad Haadi Ruswa, on which the film is based.
|Abhishek Bachchan and Aishwarya Rai in a still from Umrao Jaan.|
“I’ve set it in that period because it was a wonderful era, like the Renaissance in the West, a period of rich cultural and scientific progress,” he says. “And since music plays an important part in the story, it was all the more important to set the film in the same era. Today, we have the Americanisation of India, which is reflected in our stories, narration, technique, music — it stirs the body more than the soul.”
Dutta has taken some license with the original storyline. “I have made changes, which I can’t reveal now. Interestingly, while we were shooting in Lucknow, we discovered that Ruswa had written a love story between Umao Jaan and Sultan Khan first, but discarded it and then wrote
Umrao Jaan Ada
,” he says, excited about sharing his thoughts on the late 19th century writer.
His casting also puts his actors in moulds outside their present image. Aishwarya Rai, who wields guns in Dhoom 2 and swords in her international project The Last Legion, plays a stately courtesan while Abhishek Bachchan, who plays Nawab Sultan Khan in this film, has playing a cop in Dhoom 2 and a visionary in Guru. “Only dead fish flow with the tide. Those alive swim against the tide,” says Dutta.
Dutta attributes his disciplinarian image on the sets to “being a product of my experiences, which were very in tense, after I lost some people I was close to, like my mother. I launched my first film Sarhad, but it got shelved. I could either go back to being an assistant director or move ahead with a new venture, which I did with Ghulami (1985).”