'End of Jodhaa Akbar ban is moral victory'
Lifting of the ban on Jodhaa Akbar in Madhya Pradesh is a moral victory, says Ronnie Screwvala, CEO of United Television (UTV), the company which produced the period film.
Excerpts from an interview
Jodhaa Akbar has been walloped from all ends for no reason?
Yes, and we've been telling everyone to calm down. Unfortunately, we've been walloped really hard. But we're thrilled that the film has done exceptionally well at the box office. In 10 days, we accrued around Rs.750 million worldwide. I don't know why we've been targeted for protests. It was very important for Jodhaa Akbar to work. We haven't had a historical for a long time. The more the genres work, the more variety we'll have in our movies.
Maybe the cost factor for a historical is prohibitive?
That's not true. Jodhaa Akbar cost nearly Rs.420 million. That's a lot less than what some of the recent non-historical films have cost.
So do you think the younger audiences don't care about history any more?
Not true, because they're the ones who went to see Jodhaa Akbar over the opening weekend. It just depends on the story and packaging. I daresay our marketing of the film was too low-key. But we wanted people's expectations to be lower than what the film was actually worth. We wanted to surprise them. Jodhaa Akbar had to run equally well for four weeks and not just the opening week.
Did you anticipate the protests?
Even when our director Ashutosh Gowariker was shooting in Rajasthan the protests had started. So we pretty much pre-empted the protests. But we were releasing 1,500 prints. Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh were about 60-70 prints. That didn't seem much. But we had to fight it out on principle. When we had taken all precautions, gone through all the relevant procedures and channels, why the protests?
Once it started in Rajasthan, the protests were bound to spread.
That is why we tackled the situation in Madhya Pradesh to the best of our abilities. We're hoping that the protests will now be reversed. However, protests cannot be controlled. As far as legislation goes, we'll take the legal route to stop the protests.
In Madhya Pradesh, we moved the high court. The honourable judge heard us out, asked questions and reserved his ruling till the evening and then referred the case to a divisional bench that lifted the ban.
Do you think the lifting of the ban in Madhya Pradesh will give the film a new lease of life?
To be honest, the victory in Madhya Pradesh is an ideological one. It has been as strong in the second week worldwide as in the first. We got a phenomenal response overseas. Yes, it will be a profit-making venture for us. And the credit goes to Ashutosh's wife Sunita, who managed the cost effectively.
There has been a history of biographical films being targeted.
Everyone who has seen the film has come forward in support. I think you need to push ahead and do what you want to, persevere and get on with it. We fought this legal battle in Madhya Pradesh not for today but for our tomorrows. Our company UTV believes cinema needs to go forward.
Would you like to dabble in another historical?
Yes, why not? It's the script that worked in Jodhaa Akbar and the director's vision. I think the love story of Jodhaa and Akbar worked above historical facts. We're now hoping to see the film being released in Rajasthan. We're urging the proponents there to see the film. Unfortunately, those who are protesting haven't seen it. If they had seen it, they'd have nothing to protest about.