Lagaan (2001) — Ashutosh Gowariker’s Oscar nominee (Best Foreign Language Film) released 20 years ago today. The film cleverly weaved cricket into cinema. Its underlying sense of patriotism and triumph of human spirit turned it into one of our most iconic films. 20 years later, Bhuvan aka Aamir Khan fielded questions on the film, its making and whether it has aged well, while sharing precious anecdotes along the way. Following are excerpts from his video conference with the media.

Some films like Mughal-E-Azam (1960), Mother India (1957), Ganga Jumna (1961), Sholay (1975) these are classics because they’ve stood the test of time. Mughal-E-Azam the pace is slow, dialogue is proper Urdu and it still binds you. Can you plan these films? No. I am sure even K.Asif didn’t know that people will love his film even 60 years later. Will people be still interested in Lagaan 30 years later? We don’t know. Every film cannot stand the test of time. Some films may not age well. I am not sure if Lagaan will be immortal but I am happy that it has lasted 20 years.For me, Lagaan has been a fantastic journey, full of joy and learning where we all joined in step by step… Ashu, me, Jhamu Sughand, Rahman… everyone who worked on it and last being the audience. The journey is ongoing…

My uncle Naseer sahab (producer Nasir Hussain) used to say, “Jo behtareen filmein Banti hai, Woh aap banate nahi ho, Woh ban jati hai. Koi aapko bolega dubara banao, toh aap shayad khud nahi bana paoge.” He had a nice way of putting it. He’d say, “Sometimes, things just happen and it all goes well.” Lagaan was one such instance of things falling into place. It’s the film that we look up to today, but when we were making it, we were struggling to make a story that we believed in. Jo kahani ashtoshnay likhi, we were trying our best to get it right. Humko koi idea nahi tha, yeh acchi banegi, popular hogi, 20 saal ke baad bhi hum uske baaremein baat karenge. I can tell you in all honesty and with confidence that every person involved in this film was emotionally invested in it. That emotion perhaps extracts the best out of you and kuch ban jata hai ussay. But the credit goes to Ashutosh. He was the lead writer along with Kumar Dave and Sanjay Dayma (screenplay). Ashu wrote and directed the film and did a wonderful job.”

I have seen my father struggle as a producer. In the middle of the night he was once looking for his graduation certificate as he wanted to go look for a job in his 40s. He feared he might go bankrupt. That was our condition, so I remember telling myself that I would never be a producer. But ironically in life, you end up doing things, you think you won’t ever do. I ended up producing Lagaan because I loved the script and wondered which producer will provide the resources for a film like this. I didn’t want local tourists being roped in to play British officers. I couldn’t think of any producer as Ashu before Lagaan had not given successful films. So I realised I need to produce it. Koi mila nahi toh main ban gaya. And after that I realised it isn’t an easy job but it gives me a lot of creative control.

Two good films can release on the same day and do well. Dil and Ghayal also released on the same day and did well. So with Sunny, this wasn’t the first time. I told Ashu that Gadar won’t go wrong. It has a solid story and emotional impact. We were prepared for it being a good film but weren’t prepared for it being a monstrous hit. That film was at least 3 times bigger than Lagaan. It was a tsunami and we survived alongside, which itself was a big deal. Lagaan may not have done equal business but we faired well, too.

I often get asked, ‘how disappointed were you for not winning the Oscar’? Of course I was disappointed I would have liked to win. Many have asked me if the songs and length of the film was an issue for the Academy members? The fact that the film was nominated and was in the top five, says that the members loved it. It’s not easy to be nominated. You have to understand you cannot compare films. Can you compare Lagaan and Dangal? Both are good films. It just means that a certain jury found another film better. Sports doesn’t have subjectivity. Either you’ve run the fastest or you have not. Cinema is subjective. Oscar widens the reach of your film globally. The people who had no clue what Lagaan was all about also saw the film. Biggest award for me is people loving the film and they did.

When I decided to make Lagaan I knew it was a huge challenge. I remember meeting my good friends Karan Johar and Aditya Chopra at distributor Anil Thadani’s party a week before leaving for the shoot. They were concerned about me opting for single schedule and sync sound as it was a huge risk as a producer. In mainstream, no one had opted for sync sound in years, so they asked me to be sensible. But I wanted to do these things for five years before Lagaan. I remember telling this to Ram Gopal Verma as well. The sound and emotion that comes in live performance can’t be recreated in dubbing. So when I became a producer I was clear that I will use sync sound, single schedule and first AD system. Apurva Lakhia was the first AD on Lagaan. I met him in New York and locked him. One of the reasons we selected him was because he was fluent in Gujarati and we needed that to converse with the villagers. He did a wonderful job. That experiment was successful and post Lagaan all my films have been single schedule, sync sound and have first AD system. After advising me to not to do it, both Adi and Karan follow these styles (laughs). It changed my life as an actor dramatically. It allows me to work on a character for 3-4 months… the prep. Being a producer has changed me as an actor because I could put these processes in place.

Today you could multiply people easily in a frame because of technology. At that time we actually had to get 10,000 people on set. But a film has its challenges no matter when you make it. There’s crisis everyday. Ashu and Reena (ex wife and producer) often had their arguments as director-producer. In one scene, Ashu wanted 500 people as villagers and Reena gave him that but when he actually shot it, he realised 500 are less. He needed more people and Reena wondered from where can she get more people at the last minute. She was against the shoot being cancelled. Our makeup department and production setup was behind the temple you see on the hill in the film. I had to walk ten minutes to reach the location and I realised Ashu was right. Log kam lag rahe the. We lost one day of shoot, lost money, got 1500 people the next day and shot the scene. I had to take that decision to ensure that scene comes out well. Filmmaking is about taking hundred such decisions every single day. We also struggled to get 10,000 people as spectators for the final match in the film. The production team was shocked when I made that demand. A local guy Tanabhai, helped us out. Funnily, the 10,000 people we needed had to be dressed in dhoti and kurta as the film is set 100 years ago. They can’t be dressed in shirts and trousers, can’t be wearing wrist watches or modern shoes. So those 10,000 people had to be first taken to costume department to dress them up and then send them on set.

I have never tried to second guess box office collection. If I love a story, I go after it. I don’t look for issue based stories. I feel the primary job of a film is to entertain. No one wants a lecture on sociology or psychology when they buy a movie ticket. People go to college for that. People seek entertainment so I don’t want to bore you. While entertaining you, if I get to say something important, I do that. I cannot just give you gyaan but if I can do both, sonay pe suhaga.

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