Ashutosh Gowariker gives Shubarna Mukerji Shu a walk through ‘Mohenjo Daro!
In the day and age of 4G, you are taking us back in time…
In school, when we were forced to learn about it, it wasn’t so interesting. But later when I visited some museums, saw some artefacts, it hits you at that time. I remember I did a walk through Dholavira when I was shooting for ‘Lagaan’, in Bhuj. Just thinking about how these are our forefathers… Just making the whole thing come alive was very exciting for me.
Imagine this is all prehistoric… I didn’t know there was such a term. There are no written textbooks about what happened then, beyond this is all mythology so bringing together the whole thing, weaving it together, imagining what the manners and morals of that time would be, the many untold stories… It made me want to do this.
It is tremendous hard work as well… didn’t you ever get tempted to work around it and make it a more simplified affair?
Nothing is ever easy. I had this vision, which I itched to make into something tangible, something for everyone to share. But from the minute I thought of it, to every step that I took towards making the movie, was not easy. Convincing people of your vision, getting UTV to back my vision, it is not like you just wake up and say I want to make it and go ahead with it.
Getting a script right in terms of detailing isn’t easy either. It is like, I have this fascination in my mind for this whole era and the many interesting things therein, but to recreate it and make it fascinating to others is a whole other ball game. I might promise you the moon when I am talking, but without a good script it is nothing. I had to ensure that I read up extensively about the archaeology then. I met up with Jonathan Mark Kenoyer and hosted him in Mumbai; he is a famous archaeologist and Head of Department in the University of Wisconsin. He along with five other archaeologists, who have worked closely with the excavation programmes, helped me work towards the detailing. The thing is most of them work on certain aspects of the city – some are into pottery, some, jewellery, while some are into the layouts – so based on their findings and assumptions, I created a tapestry. Once I got a go-ahead, my research became my calling card. I wove the story around the Kenoyer way of thought (because quite frankly, with archaeologists, there are many thoughts and contradictions).
What happened next?
I handed my research over to my teams and they fine-tuned the broad research. We got it all to the table and went ahead. Fact is that when you are depicting an era, every small detail is important. For instance, Hrithik is an indigo farmer in the film. The colour was the new thing in that era, and only the rich could
Hence it’s called Royal Blue…
Correct! So you see, these small things matter! Whose house should look like what, what does it sound like when copper hits copper, what kind of music instruments would there be… What kind of clothes – now that was really tricky because all the figurines we saw of the era were nudes, we couldn’t really use that as a basis of dressing our actors sans clothes now, could we?
Amidst all this, when each and every team has worked so hard on the details, what if during a crucial scene you overlooked an artefact which took months in the making… Did you have your team grumbling to you?
These are, what I call, enjoyable battles. Thankfully, I am not that kind of a filmmaker who just wakes up to an idea and asks his team to do the research. Since I am with them, I broadly know why what is important and what needs to be given preference. So I almost always have my reasons ready.
When there is so much happening on sets, how did you manage to keep track of the human aspect of your script… aren’t these opulent sets distracting in a way?
It is a very interesting question you have put and really it is very difficult to keep the parallels going, but the fact is that not a single film has been successful because it had beautiful sets. People come to the theatres to see the story, and of course if they like the sets that’s an added plus.
When I work on a story, I have it in two layers, both going parallel. The human story – what happens to whom; where it is happening is the second. Both are journeying on the same plane but in different zones. If you don’t do that, if you cannot enmesh it, your film won’t be appealing.
When you think of, say, ‘Jodhaa Akbar‘, we know that Jodhaa was given to Akbar as an alliance. The first thought that comes to your mind is ‘Oh my God, she was just given away for alliance!’ It is on her journey from Amer to Agra that the imagery steps in but that will not take prominence over what her thoughts are; it will only support it. All these factors, the landscapes, the clothes… hair and make-up, are all important for support, helping make the script more believable.
What was the most challenging aspect of the film?
How do I depict the manners and morals of that society? How do I depict the politics of the society? What kind of religion would they be following… and I am saying religion for convenience sake, I mean who were their gods, who did they worship? Even in contemporary times, politics and religion are the most important aspects, perhaps sports. To execute it, make it believable…
The thing is when you have a Hrithik Roshan in the film, that the film has bravado, machismo is a given. With Pooja there is bound to be grace and dignity, but what about their interactions? When depicting the Mughal era, anyone entering the court will be doing the three salaams, else you will not believe it. But what will be the morals and manners of this era which has no textbooks on it? It was tough… I don’t want to say much right now; only if the audience reacts to it favourably, will I know what I thought was correct or not!