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Capt. Russell of Lagaan: The first Hindi scene I shot was in front of 100 villagers

English actor Paul Blackthorne played the British army officer Captain Russell in Lagaan. He talks about his experience of shooting for the Oscar-nominated Bollywood film, which completes 16 years today.

bollywood Updated: Jun 15, 2017 07:46 IST
Samarth Goyal
Samarth Goyal
Hindustan Times
Paul Blackthorne,Lagaan,Captain Russell
Paul Blackthorne took three months to learn his Hindi dialogues for the film Lagaan.

He is famous among global audiences for playing Quentin Lance in the popular American TV series, Arrow. However, for Indian audiences, British actor Paul Blackthorne’s most memorable role was that of the sadistic Captain Russell, in Aamir Khan’s Lagaan. The Oscar-nominated Bollywood film, on one drought-stricken village’s fight to save itself from crippling taxes through a make-or-break game of cricket, completes 16 years today. It was directed by Ashutosh Gowariker, with music by AR Rahman. The shooting took place in Kutch, Gujarat.

In an e-mail interview with us, the British actor talks about his first experience of Bollywood, India, and more. Excerpts:

What are your memories of shooting in India for a Bollywood film that went on to be Oscar-nominated?
There are a lot of things that I remember. A lot of hard work while I was learning Hindi, horsemanship and, of course, cricket! I remember having papaya and porridge for breakfast every day. I remember Aamir’s grace, dignity and brilliance, and Ashutosh’s belief and passion on the sets. I remember Batman, my imperious horse. And finally, I remember the Gujarati people, who were amazing to spend time with for three months.

How much time did you take to learn the Hindi dialogues? Was it difficult and did you get any support from the Indian actors?
I spent three months learning Hindi. I had a VERY patient, brilliant teacher! The night before shooting the scenes, I would sit with Aamir and Ashutosh and go over the Hindi scenes — they helped me to polish it up... The first Hindi scene I shot was in front of about 100 villagers — after the first take, they all cheered, and this imbued me with some confidence!

Did you, at that point of time, anticipate the kind of reception it got, and eventually the Oscar nomination?
I think it’s best to do things because something moves you, not because of what you think it might turn out to be. In this case, the script moved me and, of course, the idea of working with Aamir.

Lagaan was your first ever Bollywood film. What was the experience like?
I remember thinking, even if the film isn’t a success, at least I will be able to experience India — something I always wanted to do. That was life-changing in itself; then, of course, the film being as successful as it was turned out to be rather life-changing, too.

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First Published: Jun 15, 2017 07:40 IST