Aamir Khan tells you he wouldn’t be inclined to relive the mammoth experience of making “Lagaan”, the film that marked his debut as producer exactly two decades ago on this date, struck box office gold and eventually took him to the Oscars.
“If you ask me to make Lagaan again, I will not even attempt it. I will not have the courage to make Lagaan again,” says the superstar-filmmaker, about the Ashutosh Gowariker-directorial that defied every stereotype of the era, in the process reorganising quite a few idioms of mainstream Bollywood in its time.
Perhaps there is a sense of fulfilment that an achiever of his stature experiences while looking back at a work as consummate as “Lagaan” that would bar him from revisiting the film.
Aamir, anyway, is rarely known to repeat what he has scored with once.
Today, as the film completes 20 years, the actor romances the good old days when he shot the film, which eventually became India’s third-ever official entry at the Oscars in best foreign feature film category. While he confesses picking one memory from that incredible journey is tough for him, he recalls a few unforgettable ones.
He remembers actor Paul Blackthorne, for instance, the English actor who played the much-hated antagonist Captain Russell. Aamir remembers Russell as a “gentle giant” off-camera, who would read out “Winnie The Pooh” to everyone.
“Paul Blackthorne who played the villain, in real life he is such a sweetheart. He is a gentle giant and so soft-spoken. He was always laughing, always joking around. We had a massive make-up room where all of us used to get ready. The person who used to be entertaining all of us was Paul. He would sit on his chair and read ‘Winnie the Pooh’ aloud. Every morning, we’d sit, get our makeup done and he’d be reading ‘Winnie The Pooh’ loudly and we’d enjoy it. Captain Russel would read out Winnie The Pooh to us,” Aamir tells IANS, as he bursts out laughing recalling the memory.
Another of Aamir’s favourite recollections is of how the Gayatri Mantra prepared the entire unit for a gruelling day’s shoot ahead.
“There were things that became a habit. We would travel in a bus to the location at 4 a.m. and reach the location at 5 a.m. Every day it became a norm that for six months the ‘Gayatri Mantra’ used to be played. One of the actors just played it (on speaker) in the morning. It used to be dark, and we all had just woken up a while back. It had a good effect on us. There was not a single day that we missed it,” he recalls.
For Aamir, as well as the entire unit, “Lagaan” has been a chapter that will always be integral to their lives. It is a reason why he has stayed in touch with the team.
“I am in touch with Paul, Rachel Shelley (who played Elizabeth), with all other actors. Until five months back we had a Whatsapp group. Then I stopped using a cellphone, so I’m not a part of it,” Aamir says.
For the actor, having his family on the set of the film on the first day is still a beautiful memory.
“I think one of the memorable things for me is that since this was my first film as a producer, my uncle (Nasir Hussain), with whom I have worked as an AD (assistant director), was like my boss. I have learnt under him. He was a producer-director. My father (Tahir Hussain) has been a producer-director. So, that first day of shooting of ‘Lagaan’, when my uncle and aunt had arrived, my parents were there, my grandmother was there, (former wife) Reena’s parents were there. It was the first day that my parents and my uncle and aunt, who had seen me grow up as a child, were seeing me produce a film,” recalls the actor.
He adds: “They came to set, they saw the whole village. We had built the village, we had built the temple on the hill and behind the temple, which you never see in the film because it is on the other side of the village, we had built a huge 10,000 square-foot area for the production site. Costume rooms, lunch rooms — so there was massive space at the back. So, it was a very important moment for me to see my parents, uncle and aunt come to set, look at it and realise that now I have become a producer.”
Aamir says he did not expect the kind of response the film garnered post release. The reaction to the climactic cricket match in the story, which occupies the last hour of the film, was a pleasant surprise, too. “People in the theatres in the last one hour used to convert it into a stadium. The audience would shout, ‘Bhuvan! Bhuvan!’ We didn’t expect this kind of a response. It was a dream response,” he sums up.
Indeed, it is a dream response that the film still continues to see, after two decades.