20 years of Lagaan | Oscar nomination brought mainstream cinema on a global platform: Ashutosh Gowariker
Going down memory lane to talk about Lagaan, one can’t miss the numerous records it set — from the number of awards it earned to the business it did overseas and of course the fact that it was Indian’s third film — after Mother India (1957) and Salaam Bombay! (1988) — to be nominated at the Academy Awards. Director Ashutosh Gowariker admits that though it didn’t win an Oscar, there was a “renewed interest in song and dance” after Lagaan.
“When I was making this film, I thought if people like it in all parts of India, it has crossed over within the country. I wasn’t thinking America at that time. The day we got to know that the film is being liked in Gaiety and Chandan (single screen theatres in Mumbai), and in Delhi... and then we started getting international news from France, South Africa and other countries... we knew the film is crossing over on its own, and that was a bigger joy,” he recalls, adding that Oscar nomination was an icing on the cake.
“And then of course it being India’s entry to Oscars and getting the nomination... the film was speaking. So yes, mainstream Indian cinema came on a global platform, for the first time. Before this, Mother India also had songs and it a woman’s struggle for her family, but in the new era, definitely, there was a renewed interest in the song and dance, not just from NRIs audience but also the non-NRIs wanted to look at it. And we were so excited about what it could do within India,” Gowariker notes.
That Lagaan is among the lengthiest films in Bollywood is largely known. Asked Gowariker if he was making it today, would he have compromised on its 3 hours 42 minutes run time or worked differently?
“These are different times we’re living in, so definitely my approach in scripting would have been completely different, it’s not the editing process. But still, I can’t tell you that I’d make a two-hour film. It’s not. It’s a film that needs that process. So, maybe I’d have structured a new script that would come within three hours maybe,” says Gowariker, as he explains how the advent of social media since 2010 has “drastically changed” things.
“So definitely that would have to be kept in mind. But, if we released Lagaan today the way it is, I feel people have adjusted to that duration and that aspect. Also, I believe a film should be told in a required duration that the film needs and with the genre that it’s promising,” insists the director.
While the film’s lead actor Aamir Khan feels he couldn’t prepare much for the role of Bhuvan, Gowariker says that he was somewhere sure that Khan have got the hang of the character, quite well.
“Each time we did narrations together, in my happy mind I’m thinking that Aamir is getting the film, he understands, he knows it and hence he’s acting it in and now he’s going to produce it. So somewhere, for both of us — him in production and I doing all the direction — I knew in this prep that Aamir ko toh pata hi hai. And he had done the audition with Gracy Singh and a lot of other actors, so somewhere he is taking that all in,” the maker recounts, confessing that there’s one thing he still feels unhappy about.
“The only thing that I’ve been sad about is that Aamir couldn’t work on his diction, because that was something which needed practice for him to speak his lined in Avadhi. And it was a challenge because in a dubbed film, you can still dub it later and correct it. but this was sync sound, so you’ve to get it right the first time only,” he shares.
Other than anecdotes about Khan, one casting in Lagaan which has the most unusual for Gowariker was to get someone for Kachra’s character.
“I needed someone who would belong to a community which isn’t in the forefront of society, but at the same time, should have a gentleness in him, and not be rebellious. He should be very innocent in his entire behaviour and embrace the way he is. So that took a lot of auditions, and finally, Aditya Lakhia came on board,” he reveals.