Ashutosh Gowariker’s much awaited period drama Mohenjo Daro may not have done expected business at the ticket window. But that hasn’t undermined his spirit. Because all said and done, his daring effort of transporting audiences to that golden era has been appreciated. What’s gratifying for the director, despite the film’s damp reception, is the fact that he could give form to his long nurtured dream. “I’m happy with the overall reaction,” he says.
It’s interesting to note that Ashutosh got the idea of making Mohenjo Daro while location hunting for Lagaan. “When I was in Bhuj for the location hunting of Lagaan, I stumbled upon the city of Dholavira in Gujarat. I could feel the echo of a lost civilisation there. And somewhere the thought lingered in my mind that a film needs to be made on such a subject.” He says the unknown, the past, has always fascinated him. He enjoyed visiting the Mughal era in Jodhaa Akbar or even the freedom struggle in Khelein Hum Jee Jaan Sey. “Even in Mohenjo Daro, it was all about who were these people, what was the civilization like, what was their society like, what was their religion and what kind of politics they followed!”
To create the ancient Indus valley civilization must have been a dicey process, because there’s no accurate information on it. The director went through all the books that were available on the ancient Indian civilizations. His search led him to archaeologist Jonathan Mark Kenoyer, a world authority on the Indus Valley Civilization, who heads the anthropology department in the University of Wisconsin, Madison. He also got in touch with five Indian archaeologists, Dr P Ajit Prasad, V N Prabakhar, K Krishnan, Professor Vasant Shinde and RS Bisht. Based on their information he built a story. “Mohenjo Daro means the mound of the dead. Its name was given by a British archaeologist in 1930. Also, most figurines found from the period depict women as being naked. Obviously, I cannot make a movie like this. You have to add fiction. That’s what I did,” he explains why he took creative liberties in the depiction of the lost civilization. Ashutosh underlines that his film cannot serve as a reference manual for history students. He equates it to someone studying Mughal-e-Azam to know Mughal history. “You need to study something like the Akbarnama for that, a historical document.”
Ashutosh’s last two films, What’s Your Raashee? And Khelein Hum Jee Jaan Sey didn’t work at the box-office. So it must have been hard for him to make such a huge budget period film. He accepts the charge. “It was difficult. But when an actor like Hrithik Roshan, who has got tremendous star power, green lights a project, things become easier,” he says giving due credit to the superstar. He’s glad that UTV backed his vision all the way. He adds that it didn’t mean that he received a carte blanche from UTV on the budget. He did have limitations on how much he could spend on different areas of the film. For someone, who’s accused of lavishness, he says, “In Hollywood, the same movie would cost 150 million dollars to make. Here, it’s not even one third.”
While shooting the film, Hithik Roshan was going through turbulence in his personal life but Ashutosh assures that it never affected his film. “When we started shooting last year in January, he was in state of turmoil. But Hrithik never let that show on the sets. He kept it within himself. He’s a thorough professional in that sense. There were times when we told him to take a break but he was mentally strong and kept going.” Ashutosh reveals Hrithik had neck, back and shoulder problems too but never let the physical strain affect his work. “This was a demanding film in terms of action. So despite all the pain, he kept going. That was commendable.”
It’s Ashutosh’s second film with Hrithik after Jodhaa Akbar. He beams as he reflects on how Hrithik has grown as an actor over the years. “He has matured not only in terms of his acting but also in terms of his mind space. The kind of films he did between Jodhaa Akbar and Mohenjo Daro served as catalysts of change and growth. So, in this film, he was quick on the take, more nuanced; he probably knew how to hit certain emotions quickly and naturally. There was a different kind of joy working with him on the second film.”
Instead of casting an established actress opposite Hrithik in the film, Ashutosh chose a new girl, Pooja Hegde. He says initially, he did want a marquee name as the heroine. “But as the character of Chaani developed, I realised that it couldn’t be played by a star. It had to be a fresh face. My wife, Sunita, spotted Pooja on TV in a commercial. When I tested Pooja, it became clear that she was the one.” He reveals that the courage to experiment with fresh faces comes from his faith in his leading actors. “Because I had Aamir Khan, I could have Gracy Singh in Lagaan. Because I had Shah Rukh Khan, I could have Gayatri Joshi in Swades. Similarly, here I had Hrithik and hence I could get Pooja Hegde to play Chaani.”
Ashutosh has worked with Aamir and SRK and would love to work with Salman Khan as well. “Salman is an incredible combination of innocence and strength of character. There’s a certain impish charm about him. There’s certain naughtiness, the way he glances at the heroine or the kind of humour he enjoys. Cinematically, he’s an exciting actor. People talk about how great he is in Bajrangi Bhaijaan and how great he is in Sultan. But I believe he was superb in Maine Pyar Kiya and Hum Aapke Hain Koun..! I’d love to work with him. I should have a script that can impress him.”
Ashutosh generally takes three to four years to make one film but now he’s in no mood to take such a long gap. The credit goes to his producer wife Sunita Gowariker. “Sunita believes we should do one film every year. But it should be a story that excites me. Things don’t happen exactly the way you want them to happen always. I want to make my next film quickly.”
His elder son Konark assisted him on Mohenjo Daro and the filmmaker is happy that his legacy has been taken forward. “Konark studied in Emerson College, Boston. He finished his filmmaking course and joined me on this film. He was in charge of script supervision and script continuity. He handled the auditions and the casting. He has done subtitles of the film. He was also involved with the music of the film. It was wonderful to see him work so hard,” he reveals. “When I started working there was no training. I was a tapori. There was no format. I’m glad that there’s system in place now. He’ll start work on his own script soon. My younger son Vishwang is studying in the same college. He too plans to become a director,” gushes the proud father.