Mumbai: Reliving his TV days, to managing the heated SRK-Aamir equation to evolving with time, Ashutosh Gowariker in a world he rarely allows people to step in. Here are the excerpts:
The entire 80’s, you did so much work in the Television industry as an actor…Could you tell us about the industry functioned back then and how it is now?
I think all of us, my entire batch we were all struggling as an actor. Once at BR Chopra’s office, we were standing in a line for the auditions of Mahabharat. I remember it was in 1985, with me was Nitish, and behind me in the line was Govinda, Deepak Tijori. I think every actor of that generation had been at the Mahabharat auditions. Of course I didn’t get the role, Nitish was outstanding as Krishna as we all know, and there cannot be another Krishna. Govinda I don’t think he got which is why he probably did Ilzam and Love 86 and became the star he is. Television was still in its nascent stage and all the filmmakers were still exploring it. So there was a lot of seriousness to it. Ramesh Sippy ji wanted to make Buniyaad, Mirza, Kundan Shah, Amol Palekar making Kachi Dhoop in which I acted in it. So all the filmmakers were seriously looking at how to utilize the new medium. Lot of literature, mythology was being used. I think today it is more about; we have gone away from literature. The consumer has become slightly different and the patience to watch TV shows has now changed. Television grammar of story telling has changed and it needs to shock every minute.
It has got its pitfalls. The shock a minute kind of an attitude is when you don’t shock every minute, the viewer is going to pick up that remote and change the channel. When I decided to do TV as a producer, I decided to make Everest because for me, it was the classic way of doing television where you were telling a story for story sake. We were not depended on TRP’s, we were doing what we wanted to do. I am glad the channel agreed to do differently. You may get nostalgic about it but I think change is inevitable. Hamara time pe when we had 5 day cricket matches and the one day format came in, our parents said what is happening to cricket. The kids would say no no this is good. Today, 20-20 is happening and the one day game generation is feeling that they are killing the game. The younger generation is telling us no it’s cool. So entertainment is getting more condense and is always changing. One must cater to their needs which regards to certain things. Like a film can be long/short, any genre, as long as it engages me I will see it.
But given your filmography, you have never followed the path of what the audience needs… You have always taken a different route….
But still! Aap agar kadwi goli de rahe ho, toh uske saath shakar ka tukda bhi dena zaroori hai. I will always have songs; I need a popular star to pull a film.
In an old interview of Aamir, he had said how he made you narrate the script of Lagaan to his parents as he wasn’t sure himself…What exactly had happened?
It was a tough movie to sell and it had a combination of 5-6 things which were all taboo at that time. There were taboos like a film set in a village cannot work; a film on cricket doesn’t work because everything in the past had failed. A film in a dialect doesn’t work, don’t do it, I was told. A film on British Era, don’t do it. Aamir with a change hairstyle and dhoti as a farmer, don’t do it. There were so many don’ts but only Aamir knew there is something in the script but he needed support. At that time he had decided because his family had lost a lot of money as a producer, he will never become a producer. He knew if he told his dad that he is going to produce a film, he is going to freak out. He asked me if I can narrate it to his father ( late Tahir Hussain) and he loved it. That’s when the decision became clearer for him.
How have you changed as filmmaker and evolved since Lagaan? Mohenjaro was your shortest film till date…
I have lost a lot of revenue in Lagaan and Jodha Akhbar because instead of 4 shows I only had 3 in a single screen and lesser in multiplexes. I couldn’t do anything about it because those films needed that length. Lagaan ends at 2.30 minutes and add 1 hour of the cricket match and it becomes 3.42 mins. So I can’t sacrifice the climax. Jodha, I can’t remove the life and times of the Mogul court. A ‘hi’ and a ‘hello’ today at that time was 3 salaams. So you have to follow the protocol and show it and therefore the film becomes longer. In Mohenjodaro, because it’s not governed by all of this, it’s a drama with a love story and the civilization. I didn’t need so much time. It’s a genre specific thing.
So you may continue to make long films?
It’s the film’s genre that decides what your length should be. An animation film cannot be over 90 minutes. That’s the thumb rule but that doesn’t mean from now on I will make a 90 minute film.
What gives you cold feet? The time when you were making your debut film with no big star or now with the big names…
I don’t think I had any fear when I was doing the first film because I had nothing to lose. I was diving in. In my second film, I had everything to lose. So I had cold feet in the second film as I had to be extra cautions. My first film had not work so let me make this one better. Again, when I was making Lagaan I had nothing to lose because I had decided that if I come back as a filmmaker I make Lagaan or nothing else. The attitude was different. Today I don’t have the fear of not being accepted because lot of times my movies get appreciated by not necessarily get translated into a box office success. Swades is a huge pact on my back which I still get it but at that time it had not worked.
In Mushtaq Sheikh’s book, you have mentioned about how Shah Rukh in a competitive spirit has told you how he wants to be ahead of Aamir…How did you juggle these 2 mega stardoms and their equations?
Let me give you this answer in a different way. In any city in the world, it is always the immigrant that rises. Because the resident is more relax and content. He has a house and his business is set. The immigrant has no time, he has to quickly come and make his position. That immigrant is Shah Rukh and the resident is Aamir. So Aamir in his position is content even today. SRK from day 1 would tell ‘I don’t have time’. I used to always tell him ‘what are you saying’. You can see it in his entire being even today. If you meet him, you will still feel he is in a hurry and he has to be somewhere. Aamir is much calmer; he is like let’s think about it. Both are hugely successful on their own terms, method of selection of movies, outlook of their but their approach is different.