Monday, April 22, 2019

The Spirit of Lagaan - Satyajit Bhatkal

This book was lying with me for a long time and I finally picked it up to read. It made me feel all that the movie did, and more. The real story of the making is far more interesting - like Sholay's was.

Starts with Ashutosh Gowariker, two flops old, pitching the idea to Aamir Khan at 3 am in the parking lot of Aamir's house. Aaamir trashes the idea, tells Ashutosh not to waste his time and work on something else. Ashu is devastated but sticks to his vision. He works on the idea and develops the script with a couple of collaborators. Back to pitching the idea and Aamir asks him if he can find a producer for the film without a star. Ashu cannot. Finally Aamir listens to a full narration and decides to produce it himself.

They decide on a single schedule and to do it professionally. Ashu is given freedom and money and he chooses the location in Bhuj. Other department heads are finalised - Anil Mehta is DoP, AR Rahman is music, Javed Akthar is lyrics, Bhanu Athaiya is costume design. Srinivas Rao is the ED. They bring in Apurva Lakhia as AD. Sets are built - cricket pavilion, ground prepared, a village is built, ten thousand extras organised, elephants, horses. British crew of forty. A place is hired in Bhuj - an apartment block which is modified to their comfort. The film is ready to be shot.

Weather, many other variables, combine to make the shooting difficult. It goes beyond schedule. What was originally four months is now six months. But it is done with great difficulty, physically and emotionally and the film is edited. Comes to five hours and then three hours. That's where it stops. Ashu cannot cut any more without compromising his vision.

When it is released, Lagaan becomes a classic.

I remember the feelings I went through when I watched Lagaan in Vimal theatre in Hyderabad with Shobha and my nephew Avinash and it was like nothing else I had experienced till then. Reading the book made me feel all that. In fact ever since I put the book aside I have been humming 'Chale Chalo'. It's very well written by Satyajit Bhatkal who was on the set all through. Now to watch the movie again.

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